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William Lloyd Garrison, the famous abolitionist, 
was the conscience of his age. A tenacious, 
idealistic young man of twenty-six when he 
began the publication of The Liberator, he 
served warning that his moral indictment of 
slavery would be uncompromising: "I am in 
earnest I will not equivocate I will not 
excuse I will not retreat a single inch 
AND i WILL BE HEARD." Garrison was as good 
as his word. He, more than any other American 
of his time, was responsible for the atmosphere 
of moral absolutism which led to the Civil War 
and the emancipation of the slaves. 

Taking the turbulent career of the abolitionist 
as his focal point, the author brilliantly evokes 
the social, political and religious forces which 
made the ante-bellum period one of the most 
fascinating in American history. In the thirty 
years before the Civil War, Americans were 
possessed by a dramatic certainty that the New 
World could produce a new race of men strong 
in their natural goodness and their commitment 
to total freedom. All Americans shared in the 
perfectionist dream in some way, for perfec- 
tionism meant freedom freedom from the 
past and the burdens of history, freedom from 
institutions and power, freedom from sin and 
guilt. Perfectionism verified the American belief 
in the second chance. 

Through this period moved the controversial 

figure of William Lloyd Garrison, a man both 

revered and vilified. An ascetic, moralistic., and 

(Continued on second flap) 


The Liberator 

A Biography 

by John L* Thomas 


Little, Brown and Company * Boston Toronto 





Published simultaneously in Canada 

by Little, Brown <z^ Company (Canada) Limited 


In Memory of 


Prologue 3 

1. Newhuryport Boyhood 7 

2. The Young Conservative 27 
3* Boston 54 
4* Benjamin Lundy 74 

5. The Road to Prison 9* 

6. Launching the Liberator 114 
7* Fanning the Blames 129 
8* Triumph and Doubt in 1833 155 
9, Mobs and Martyrs 178 

10- "Our Doom as & Nation Is Sealed" 209 

1 1, A Woman in the Pulpit 236 

12, The Politics of Perfection 156 

13, Triumph of the Saints z8x 
14* "No Union with Slaveholders** 305 

15. Compromise 338 

1 6. The Great Slave Power Conspiracy 367 
17* Secession 388 
1 8. Armageddon at Last 409 

19. Reconstruction and Redemption 

Epilogue 45* 

Notes 4^ 

Bibliography 4^4 

Bibliographical Note 49- 

Index 495 


("Between pages 246 and 247) 

Helen Benson Garrison 
Garrison and Wendell Phillips 

Garrison at fifty 

Garrison at seventy 

Benjamin Lundy 

Prudence Crandall 

Samuel Joseph May 

Edmund Quiney 

Angelina Grimki 

Sarah Grimk6 

Theodore Weld 

Henry C Wright 

Nathaniel P, Rogers 

Abby Kelley Foster 

Stephen Symonds Foster 

The Liberator 



"TT WILL BE as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as 

J[ justice/' So William Lloyd Garrison warned the Ameri- 
can people in 1831 in the first number of the Liberator, his 

abolitionist newspaper and for thirty-five years the strident 
voice of his anti-slavery conscience, "On this subject, I do not 
wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! 

Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; 
tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the 
ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from 
the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use 
moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest I 
will not equivocate I will not excuse I will not retreat a 
single inch AND i WILL BE HEARD." 

Garrison was as good as his word. Until Lee's surrender 
at Appomattox brought an end to slavery in America he 
made himself heard, at first with hatred, then with grudging 
admiration, and finally with respect. He hated slavery be- 
cause it denied God to black and white men alike. This 
hatred he preached to a whole generation of Northerners and 
made the central theme of his life. He was an irascible man, 
irresponsible and often vindictive, but he was ako single- 
minded and courageous, If too often his moralizing seemed 
empty and pretentious, the moral values he taught were real 


and compelling. More than any other American of his time 
he was responsible for the atmosphere of moral absolutism 
which caused the Civil War and freed the slave, 

The contradictions in the man found their reflection in the 
dominant mood of ante-bellum America, The American 
people proclaimed the virtues of the free individual and 
regularly elected military men for presidents. They professed 
a hatred of privilege and thought of themselves as a chosen 
people. They feared the power of institutions and proceeded 
to organize societies and institutions of every conceivable 
kind. They boasted of their secular Enlightenment heritage, 
yet remained profoundly Christian. They talked like prag- 
matists and acted like idealists. They preached equality and 
practiced slavery. And finally, they believed in peace but 
went quickly and dutifully to war. This was the generation 
which began by vilifying Garrison and ended by honoring his 
courage and foresight. 

When he died in 1 879 few Americans doubted that he had 
been the founder and chief prophet of the abolitionist cru- 
sade. In the eighty-four years since his death, however, the 
Garrison legend, which he deliberately constructed, has 
crumbled beneath the repeated hammerings of historians who 
have questioned his primacy, minimized his effectiveness, 
emphasized his fanaticism, and challenged his premises. Some 
of his critics have discovered new anti-slavery heroes to re- 
place him. Others have singled out his turbulent career as 
proof of the dangers of moral abstractions and the need for a 
pragmatic approach to politics. 

Because he belonged to a deeply religious age Garrison 
would not have understood a view of history which ignored 
the hand of God in the affairs of men. The dates of Ms life- 
time, 1805-1879, serve as the terminals of the age of Ameri- 
can religious reform; those of the Liberator, 1831-1865, mark 


the life span of anti-slavery. In his mind the energies of 
religious reform and the forces of abolition were one and the 
same. He only knew that lie and his followers were Christian 
soldiers doing God's work in the world. 

The American abolitionists constituted a religion, and Gar- 
rison the leader of a schismatic sect within that religion. He 
took the formula for salvation of the religious revivalists of 
his day and applied it directly to slavery. "Immediate eman- 
cipation" as he taught it was not a program but an attitude, 
an urgent warning that shut out thoughts of expediency or 
compromise. Applied to politics, it fostered an apocalyptic 
view of the world and released in him hidden desires for per- 
fection* Christian perfection, in turn, offered the comforting 
ideal of the perfect society, harmonious, self-regulating, free 
from the demonic aspects of power. Garrison's experiment in 
practical piety carried him out of the anti-slavery camp, be- 
yond the Jacksonian compass to the very borders of Christian 
anarchy. It took secession and the coming of a war he had 
predicted to recall him to the realities of institutionalized 
slavery and the task of abolishing it. For the failure of his 
generation to achieve the racial democracy which the Civil 
War made possible he must be held accountable. 'He made the 
moral indictment of slavery which precipitated the war, 
but he lacked the understanding and sustaining vision to lead 
his countrymen toward the kind of democratic society in 
which he believed* Both in his great achievement and in his 
tragic failure he spoke for his age* 

Ncwburyport Boyhood 

ON A MARCH DAY in the year 1873 William Lloyd Gar- 
rison sat in his study drafting a formal reply to friends 
who urged him to write his autobiography. "There are in- 
numerable battles yet to be fought for the right," he wrote 

in his neat and careful script as though for the eyes of poster- 
ity, "and those who shall hereafter go forth to defend the 

righteous cause . , . cannot fail to derive strength and in- 
spiration from an intelligent acquaintance with the means and 

methods used in the Anti-Slavery movement/' 1 He was not 
sure he was up to the job himself. Now nearing seventy and 
in failing health, he knew his work was finished. The prospect 

of compiling a history of American abolitionism for such 

he believed his life story to be seemed uninviting. He would 
need time, he told his friends, to consider the project. 

Sitting erect at his desk, his blunt features crowned by a 
massive bald head, cold blue eyes peering over square, steel- 
rimmed spectacles, Garrison looked the very embodiment of 
moral reform* There was a righteousness in his face which 
no one could mistake for humility. For thirty-five years he 
had been loved by only a handful of people and fiercely 
hated by many more who saw nothing but his fanaticism and 
pursuit of notoriety* Now he was a legend, hailed throughout 
the North as the genius of the anti-slavery movement by a 


Union all too willing to represent the Civil War as a triumph 
of justice and to name him one of its heroes. Much as he 
craved recognition, he could not accept this praise, for he 
knew that not long ago many of these same admirers had 
denounced him as a traitor to his country, lie was not so 
jealous of his reputation as to accept fame on such easy terms. 
Admiration without assent to his principles left him unmoved. 
In his mind the emancipation of the slave had been a simple 
case of cause and effect: the moral energy of the abolitionists 
finally roused a conscience-stricken nation to action* I le and 
his followers were God's instruments. Through them God 
had made a civil war and freed the slave. 

Garrison's faith in the moral regeneration of mankind 
grew out of his belief in an infinitely merciful God who 
offers eternal salvation from sin. It was a religion of the 
heart rather than the head, a complex of emotional impulses 
defying analysis and testifying only to the will to believe. 
The true Christian, once assured of divine aid, purged him- 
self of sin and put on Christ Then, seeking out and joining 
with fellow converts, he might unhinge the immoral govern- 
ments of this world and usher in a reign of true holiness* It 
was this militant Christianity which was the driving force of 

The climate of post-Civil War America was not congenial 
to such Christian idealism. A new and alien science was be- 
ginning to challenge Garrison's belief in preordained progress* 
Even as he sat at his desk contemplating his life's work, he 
sensed that he had lived beyond his time, and that his faith 
held little appeal for the new generation. All the more reason, 
perhaps, to tell the trae story of American anti-slavery. To 
those who believed still in the perfectibility of man he would 
offer the evidence of his life. The story of his life, like the 
history of the reform movement fox which it was expended* 


has Its beginnings in the religious ferment of the Great 
Awakening as it made itself felt in the frontier revival In 
eighteenth-century Nova Scotia. 

The Garrison story begins in Nova Scotia one day in the 
year 1763 with the arrival from England of Joseph Garrison, 

the grandfather of William Lloyd Garrison. Here on the 
frontier along the Saint John River, which cuts through the 
deep forests of New Brunswick, Joseph Garrison met a group 
of settlers from the Merrimack Valley whose names had 
figured regularly if not prominently In the history of the 
colony for over a hundred years. These Massachusetts families 
were part of the first migration of adventurous New Eng- 
landers drawn to the frontier by the promise of cheap lands 
and an urge to spread the Great Awakening. The movement 
was mostly a communal enterprise: groups of families and 
neighbors hired agents to purchase the lands, settled the 
tracts together, and quickly organized themselves into trans- 
planted New England townships. Such was the arrangement 
which led to the founding in 1764 of Maugervllle, some fifty 
miles up the Saint John. One of the lots was given to Joseph 
Garrison, who was already exploring the surrounding country 
with an eye toward establishing a lumber business. 

Nothing is known of Joseph's former life in England* Ap- 
parently he was just one of a great number of his countrymen 
who took advantage of the return of peace to try their for- 
tunes in the New World* He soon joined the New Englanders 
and In the summer of 1764 married Mary Palmer, daughter 
of Deacon Daniel Palmer, one of the leaders of the com- 
munity. Thereupon he received a grant of land from his 
father~inkw on an upriver tributary where he settled to the 
task of clearing five hundred acres and raising a family of 
nine children? 


Slight of stature, with a scarlet birthmark and a congenital 
limp, Joseph was an unprepossessing man who lacked both the 

physical and temperamental qualities of the pioneer. In him 
optimism ran unchecked by the more sober virtues of shrewd- 
ness and hard work. Along the river, even in his grandson's 
day, the Garrisons were known for their easygoing ways 
and sanguine views. Joseph simply lacked the industry to 
make his ideas work for him. He was full of schemes for 
exploiting the new country. He discovered coal deposits 
along nearby Grand Lake, but his plan for mining them 
proved impractical. When he contracted to make barrel 
staves for New England distilleries in 1772, the Revolution 
soon put an end to his hopes for a fortune in the lumber 
trade, 3 

In the years after Lexington, when his father-in-law plunged 
the town into revolutionary ferment, Joseph stood ul<x>f, 
refusing to sign town resolutions supporting the New Eng- 
land colonies or to throw his lot in with the Loyalists, Neither 
before nor after the Revolution did he join in the political 
life of the settlement, but remained on its edges, an amiable 
but enigmatic figure, untouched by its lively religious interest 
or its spirit of enterprise. He died in 1783, a disappointed nwn, 
leaving a widow, nine children and a rundown farm, 

Abijah, the fifth child of Joseph and Mary Garrison sine! 
father of William Lloyd Garrison, was born in 1773. The 
pleasures of farming which eluded his father appealed even 
less to the boy, who shared Joseph's penchant for dreaming 
and longed to go to sea. After his father's death Abijah stayed 
on the family place just long enough to acquire a nidimenttiry 
education and then shipped aboard a schooner in the carrying 
trade, learned his seamanship from a cousin, and eventually 
became a sailing master. The ships Abijah sailed leisurely 
runs to Newburyport, often stopping to take on cargo at the 


fishing villages and lumber ports along the coast. Abijah 
liked the unattached life of a sailor and marveled at the cos- 
mopolitan atmosphere of Ncwburyport, which made the 
river towns in the province seem like lonely backwashes in 

a flood tide of commercial prosperity. He also came to enjoy 
the company of cronies in waterfront taverns and developed 

a taste for the rum which his ship brought back from New 
Abijah Garrison was a maverick. Tall and fair, he was a 

handsome man despite his prematurely thinning hair and a 
birthmark like his father's. His full reddish beard and lively 
blue eyes gave him the romantic look of a wanderer, and his 

boisterous spirits made him a choice companion. He had a 
ready tongue and a keen sense of humor along with a broad 
sentimental streak. Yet Abijah, like his father, was a born 

failure genial, weak-willed and unlucky. He dreamed of 
the day when he could sail his own schooner and meanwhile 

played the errant son, ascribing to misfortune his failure to 
get ahead in the world. As he approached manhood his rela- 
tions with his family grew steadily less cordial, an apparent 
reluctance to pay his debts more than once straining the 
parental bond. More than once, too, his genial manner gave 
way to dark suspicions of plots against his good name. He 
resented criticism of his free and easy life, and in moments 
of despair saw himself as a tragicomic victim of fate. For all 
his irresolution and occasional ill-natured outbursts, Abijah 
easily won friends among his landbound neighbors, who 
listened to his tales of adventure that linked their drab lives 
with the bustling world of New England. To them he seemed 
a strange man, oddly likable in spite of his taste for rum and 
fear of hard work* 

This was how he impressed Fanny Lloyd when^ oa one of 
his stops at Deer Isle in Passamaquoddy Bay in the year 1798, 


he wandered into a Baptist prayer meeting, spied the hand- 
some "Miss Blue Jacket," introduced himself and boldly 
escorted her home. Frances Maria Lloyd was the daughter 
of Irish immigrants who settled on Deer Isle just prior to the 
Revolution. The Lloyds were not like the Garrisons, Fanny's 
father, Andrew Lloyd, was a narrow and hard-bitten Anglo- 
Irishman who had left the grinding poverty of Ireland for 
apprenticeship in America. 4 Hard work paid off and Lloyd 
made a success of pioneering. At the time of Abijah's visit 
he was a pilot in the coastal trade and a sheep farmer on the 
windswept island. A man of moderate means, he was a 
stanch Anglican and the iron- willed patriarch of a sizable 
family, admired and respected by his neighbors. His daughter 
never forgot the esteem which her father enjoyed in the 
island community, for Andrew Lloyd was everything that 
his future son-in-law could never be proud, ambitious, un- 
yielding and righteous. 

Fanny herself was a tall willowy girl with features too 
severe to be pretty, snapping black eyes and raven-black hair. 
Unlike her people, she was a devout Baptist, the child of a 
religious revival which swept across Nova Scotia in the last 
years of the eighteenth century. 

Many of the New England 6migr6s brought to the frontier 
the same "New-Light" enthusiasm which Jonathan Edwards 
kindled in the Connecticut Valley in the 1 740*8. The New- 
Lights were religious emotionalists who demanded direct 
and visible proof of divine grace as the test of salvation. The 
redeemed were expected to dramatize their struggle for 
sanctification publicly, and in gatherings which were often 
marked by excesses to put on Christ and declare themselves 
blessed. Carried to the frontier by impassioned converts, this 
new religious spirit spread like a flash fire across the province, 
engulfing whole congregations and leaving in its wake 


dreds of "burned-over" communities of the newly saved, 
For twenty-five years Nova Scotia was torn by the same 
dissension and controversy which Edwards's Great Awaken- 
ing had fomented in New England. The result was religious 
revolution. On the eve of the American War for Independ- 
ence a majority of the settlers in the province were Congre- 
gationalists. Twenty-five years later only two Congrega- 
tional churches were left, the Anglican establishment had 
crumbled, and a militant Baptist Church stood everywhere 
unchallenged. 5 

Fanny Lloyd was won over by a Baptist evangelist who 
roamed the province in the last years of the century. Hers 
was the classic frontier tale of the worldly young woman 
who came to scoff and stayed to pray. The effects of Baptist 
preaching on her strong will were mixed. At first she suc- 
cumbed to an obsessive concern with self and agonized over 
her unworthincss. But the urge to proselytize to bring 
others to salvation proved too strong and hardened her 
will She could, and usually did, profess humility, but she 
could not practice it. Try as she might to repress them, pride 
and a driving ambition always managed to betray her es- 
sentially compulsive nature. Fanny was caught between a 
yearning for personal holiness and a longing for power over 
other people* Above all, she wanted to reach out to other 
sinners, convince them of their infinite guilt, and save them. 
Though site toyed with the notion of renouncing the world 
and its snares, she was never able to relinquish this hold on 
other people. 

Her decision to abandon a comfortable Anglicanism for 
the soul-searching rigors of the Baptists had cost Fanny her 
home and family. Andrew Lloyd, outraged at the "vulgar 
enthusiasms" of itinerant preachers, pleaded with his daughter, 
then threatened, and finally turned her out of his house. She 


was living with an uncle when Abijah met and courted her. 
Her life was lonely after she left her father, and Abijah of- 
fered the security of marriage and a home of her own. She 
thought she saw in him a good and generous man who could 
be tamed of his irregular habits by a religious experience like 
her own. What Abijah thought he was getting is less clear* 
What he did get was more than he bargained for, Fanny's 
determination overawed the easygoing seaman, and her 
quick tongue proved more than a match for his. The Impres- 
sionable Abijah soon fell in love and married Fanny some- 
time in the year 1798. 

Their marriage did not flourish, Abijah's carefree manner 
and lack of steady income vexed his proud wife. As he grew 
increasingly unmanageable Fanny retreated to the solaces 
of her religion. Recalling the "rude blast of misfortunes'* 
that followed her marriage, she confessed that "had it not 
been for an over-ruling Providence, 1 must have sunk under 
their pressure. I was taught to see that all my dreams of hap* 
piness in this life were chimerical; the efforts that we make 
here are all an imbecility in themselves and illusive, but re- 
ligion is perennial. It fortifies the mind to support trouble, 
elevates the affections of the heart, and its perpetuity lias no 
end." 6 Fanny was never so happy as when she could forget 
the problem of keeping her husband on the straight and nar- 
row path and, with her mind "engaged in religion, 1 ? con- 
template her heavenly reward, 

Abijah, in his turn, was amazed and then a little frightened 
by his wife's righteousness. Life at home became a battle of 
wills in which he soon knew he was fairly beaten. Hi* turned 
for comfort to waterfront cronies and drink. For the next 
few years their life together was one long and dreary suc- 
cession of removals, first to the Garrison farm on the river, 
where Fanny lost her first child; then to Saint John, where 


a daughter Caroline Eliza and a son, James Holley, were born; 

and then on to Granvllle. With them each time went Abij all's 
dream of success. 

As her family increased Fanny found her unsettled life 
more and more difficult. Abijah suffered from periodic at- 
tacks of rheumatism which kept him at home dependent on 
the support of his mother and stepfather, whose care he 
acknowledged with a due sense of gratitude but with little 
intention of repayment* His wife worked hard at converting 
him to Baptist ways, and Abijah even confessed a desire, no 
doubt half sincere, to "enjoy a Ray of Divine Light from the 
Throne of God and Lamb." At sea he would write Fanny 
of his yearning to be at home with his family "Free'd from 
a Tempestuous Sky and Enraged Ocean, with Just Enough 
(Good God) to supply our Real Wants and Necessities." 7 
He had no real intention of leaving the sea, however, for he 
was a skilled seaman if a poor provider. Reluctantly Fanny 
admitted that she could not change him, 

By 1805 it was time once more for Abijah to be moving 
on. Renewed hostilities between France and England and 
the prohibition of the American trade hit the Maritimes 
hard, and work as a sailing master became difficult to find. 
After months of indecision Abijah determined to take his 
family to New England, where a hazardous neutral trade 
was still profitable* He admitted that he had been following 
"the Rule of false Position, or rather permutation, these Last 
Seven Years" and promised to mend his ways. Perhaps a 
change of scene would help. "Not that I am dissatisfied to- 
wards Government," he wrote to his parents, "but the barren- 
ness of these Eastern Climes rather Obliges me to seek the 
welfare of my family in a more hospitable Climate, where I 
shall be less exposed to the Ravages of war and stagnation of 
business, which is severely felt in Nova Scotia*" 8 Appended 


to her husband's excuses was a brief note from Fanny asking 
God's blessing in all things temporal and spiritual 

A few weeks later, in the early spring of 1805, Ahijah and 
his family sailed for Newburyport There they settled in a 
small frame house on School Street next door to the Presby- 
terian vestry where the famed revivalist George Whitcfield 
had died thirty-five years before. In this house on December 
ifiijjJos, William Lloyd Garrison was born. 

In 1805 Newburyport was a thriving seaport town of five 
thousand people which the Revolution had transformed from 
a patrician village into one of the busiest ports on the Atlantic 
Coast. Huddled at the foot of a long ridge at the mouth of the 
Merrimack River, the town was the shipbuilding center of 
New England and the hub of the profitable West Indian 
trade. From its yards brigs and sloops sailed out to Guade- 
loupe and Martinique, and fishing fleets left regularly for the 
Grand Banks, returning with cod and pollock for reshipmcnt 
to Baltic and Mediterranean ports- Recently citizens of the 
town had dredged the harbor and dug a canal linking the 
'Port with the lumber country upriver; in 1805 they were 
busily reinvesting their profits in local distilleries, tanneries 
and iron foundries. On the eve of the renewed war between 
France and England, Newburyport enjoyed the benefits of a 
neutral trade which flourished as it never did again, 

North of the town along the river lay the shipyards, where 
master builders turned out the ships that swelled the town's 
merchant fleet. To the south toward open sea was "Joppa," 
the village of fisherman's shanties with their racks of salted 
cod. But the heart of Newburyport was its waterfront and 
commercial houses. Here stood the huge warehouses at the 
foot of the docks which looked out on the masts of coasters 
and West Indian traders in the harbor. 

Just above the docks lay Market Square, from which wide, 


elm-shaded streets ran up the rising ground to High Street 
and the long ridge that overlooked the town. High Street, 
where according to local legend "retired merchants do con- 
gregate," was second in prestige only to Salem's Chestnut 
Street. Here lived the wealthy merchant families Jacksons, 
Lowells, Tracys and Cusliings in hip-roofed mansions set 
in exotic landscaped gardens. High Street was a world of 
Stuart portraits and Adam parlors, dress balls and liveried 
footmen. To the newly arrived Garrisons, as to the rest of 
the town, it presented the imposing view of a conservative if 
not completely closed society of first families who cultivated 
the virtues of decorum and good taste in an atmosphere of 
cpiet elegance. The opinions of High Street gentlemen were 
decidedly Federalist, and in the year 1 805 they continued to 
dominate local and state politics, confronting the rest of the 
country with the model of rule by the Wise, the Just and the 
Good. The future rebel against these Federalist principles of 
moderation and good sense grew up in the conservative 
stronghold of Essex: County North and began his career as a 
defender of the interests and family influence of High Street. 
Abijah and Fanny Garrison joined the "middling ranks" of 
Newburyport society as the families on the hill somewhat 
patronizingly called them a class of artisans, mechanics, 
small merchants, shopkeepers and clerks. If High Street 
cherished the authority of wealth and manners, School Street, 
where the Garrisons settled, stood for the homelier values 
of piety and integrity* Its aim was not sophistication but 
respectability. The High Street families took their pleasure 
in soirees and oyster suppers; Abijah and Fanny Garrison's 
circle found fellowship in prayer meetings and evening hymn 
sings. Although they tended to follow the political direction 
of the Federalist coterie and shared its belief in benevolence 
and charity, the tradesmen and artisans of Newburyport 


displayed a more strenuous temper and formed a society at 
once cruder and more energetic. Abijah dreamed of some- 

day joining the carriage set on the hill; his son, possessed of a 
more sensitive conscience, would live to reject and finally 
condemn that world. 

The Garrisons shared the frame house on School Street 
with David Farnham, a captain in the coastal trade, and his 
wife Martha. With Farnham's help Abijah soon found work, 
and "Aunt Martha" became a mainstay of the Garrison house- 
hold In the stormy years ahead. She too was a devout Baptist, 
and many an evening the parlor was filled with the old hymn 
tunes interwoven with discourses on total depravity and the 
atoning blood of Christ. With his father so often away from 
home, Lloyd as his mother chose to call him grew up in 
an atmosphere of female piety. 

For two years after Lloyd's birth Abijah shipped is sailing 
master aboard coasters and appeared periodically between long 
slow voyages to Virginia and the West Indies, meanwhile 
sending word of himself in letters that complained of hard 
work and poor provisions. Back on shore he found his dream 
of domestic bliss shattered and hard luck dogging him once 
more. Even as he arrived in Newburyport neutral trade was 
already beset with formidable hazards, for both French and 
English cruisers were taking heavy toll of American mer- 
chantmen, In 1807 Jefferson's Embargo ended the prosperity 
which Abijah and his fellow townsmen were beginning to 
take for granted. Newburyport plunged Into a depression 
from which it never fully recovered. Shipyards and wharves 
grew silent, soup kitchens sprang up along the waterfront 
as hundreds of seamen suddenly found themselves without 
prospects of work. Some of them drifted into the provinces, 
but most of them, like Abijah, hung on in Newburyport and 


joined their employers in open defiance of a policy they be- 
lieved intentionally devised to ruin New England, 

On the first anniversary of die signing of the Embargo flags 
flew at half -mast in the town, and a crowd of seamen, Abijah 
among them, marched to the old Customs House to cheer 
inflammatory speeches against the administration, Ncwbury- 
port took the lead in denouncing the "terrapin" policies of 
Virginia's lordlings. In 1808 Massachusetts, following the 
example of the town's .Essex Junto, entered a period of out- 
right resistance to the national government which lasted until 
the return of peace eight years later. Lloyd Garrison's child- 
hood years were bitter ones for New England. As the boy 
grew older he listened eagerly to High Street explanations 
of "Mr. Madison's War" and learned to share the Federalist 
gentlemen's mortal hatred of the party of Jefferson. 

Meanwhile Abijah's enforced idleness provoked a domestic 
crisis. His wife's ways had never been his and a life of church- 
going and prayer services depressed him. Without work and 
apparently disinclined to find it, he again took refuge in 
waterfront taverns where he and his cronies indulged in the 
inexpensive pleasures of damning Jefferson and consuming 
quantities of local rum. Fanny's muttering only aggravated 
the trouble. If she would not tolerate his carousing, he for his 
part saw little sense in swapping conviviality for dubious 
promises of salvation. In the early summer of 1808 tragedy 
struck the household Caroline, Lloyd's eight-year-old sister, 
died suddenly. The birth of another daughter, Maria Elizabeth, 
a few weeks later did little to assuage Fanny's grief. When she 
gave way to a sudden fit of temper and disrupted one of 
Abijah's social evenings at home by breaking the bottles and 
forcibly ejecting his companions, her husband had had 
enough. He walked out and never returned. Years later he 
reappeared on the Sakt John, a loaely schoolteacher telling 

20 THE LIBERATOR : %v **:^ 

his relatives of his "whirl about the world/' 9 Bitter and un- 
repentant, Fanny seldom mentioned his name again, 

With three children and no money, Fanny needed all her 
iron determination to keep her family together. But she was 
young and strong her friends said that only a cannon ball 
could kill Fanny Garrison, Leaving the children with Aunt 
Martha Farnham, she found work as a practical nurse in the 
homes of the well-to-do families of the town. Domestic ser- 
vice involved a loss of status that stung her pride. In spite of 
her professed contempt for the opinions of the world she bit- 
terly resented her reduced circumstances. Her relations with 
her employers were frequently marred by the injustices, real 
or imagined, she felt in working for people more fortunate 
than herself. On one occasion she provoked a quarrel with a 
Mrs. Gardner, wife of a Salem doctor, to whom she gave a 
piece of her mind, "Drawing the picture of a true bred Lady 
and a Country ignorant Bred lady who aspired after Dignify 
and sunk in impertinence and ostentation [.I I told her for all 
she was Dr. G['s] Wife I had seen the clay that I would not 
set her with the Dogs of my fathers flock*" 10 Fanny would 
court no one's favor. 

She also worried lest Abijah's weakness appear in his sons 
and they too fall into evil ways* Anxiety drove her to domi- 
nate them* Only constant vigilance, she believed, could exor- 
cise Abijah's curse. "Your good behavior," she wrote to young 
Lloyd in one of her endless directives, "will more than com- 
pensate for all my troubles; only let me hear that you are 
steady and go not in the way of bad company, and my 
heart will be lifted up to God for you, that you may be kept 
from the snares and temptations of the evil world.'* 11 

Her control over Lloyd was nearly complete. Only three 
years old when his father left home, he easily fell under his 
mother's sway and grew up a model child and dutiful son. 


As companion, teacher and protector of her son Fanny left 
an indelible mark on the boy's mind. All his life Garrison 
was happiest in the company of women most like his mother, 
strong-minded women with repressed maternal instincts. Al- 
though lie became a champion of women's rights, the Victo- 
rian ideal of the a new woman" remained repugnant to him. 
The image of his mother, stern and righteous yet loving and 
compassionate, dominated the man just as the real Fanny ruled 
his childhood. 

With his brother James, who was six years older than 
Lloyd and remembered his father well, Fanny had no success. 
Resentful of his mother's domination yet dependent on her 
love, James ended by making a confused and tragic bid for 
independence* The atmosphere in School Street was redolent 
with maternal solicitude and soul-searching as Fanny strove 
to teach her younger son a Christian asceticism which was 
not properly hers. One of the boy's earliest memories was 
that of his mother bent in prayer with her "Dear Christian 
Friends" in the parlor. Years later, when he abandoned the 
church, charging it with sectarian exclusivencss, Garrison 
instinctively reverted to the image of this small group of 
communicants as embodying the true spirit of Christianity, 

Lloyd grew up in extreme poverty; without the help of 
devoted friends Fanny Garrison would never have been able 
to provide even the necessities for her family- As a man he 
always boasted of making his way from obscurity to recogni- 
tion "unaided and alone/' and in fact the hardship of these 
early years made a lasting impression on him. The child of 
five stood on street corners around the town peddling home- 
made molasses candy and was often detailed to collect 
scraps from the table of a a certain house in State Street," 
trudging back home accompanied by the taunts of playmates* 
Although these childhood scenes left no apparent trace of 

22 THE LIBERATOR: W J*^^^^^ 

bitterness at the time, Garrison was to be greatly impressed 
with the power of wealth and position all his life and secretly 
vexed by his failure to achieve them. The young boy, how- 
ever, inheriting the easy optimism of the Garrisons, con- 
fidently assumed that somebody would always look out for 
him. Somebody usually did. 

In 1 8 10 after a visit with her family in Nova Scotia, Fanny 
returned to Newburyport looking for work once again. 
Within a year the town was razed by fire and slipped even 
further into the doldrums. Soon after this sometime in 
the year 1812 Fanny, taking James with her, moved to 
Lynn, where she placed him with a local cordwaincr while 
she took a position as housekeeper. Lloyd went to live with 
a Newburyport neighbor, Ezekiel Bartlctt, a poor woodcutter 
and deacon of the struggling Baptist Church. Here he re- 
mained for three years. 

Lloyd found life with Deacon Harriett tolerable if lonely* 
After the daily chores of splitting and delivering cordwood 
to the houses on High Street, he explored the back country 
and the waterfront in long solitary excursions. In the sum- 
mer there were swimming in the harbor and furtive raids 
on the barrels of molasses piled on the wharves; in the winter 
he skated on the mall and engaged in snowball skirmishes with 
the "Northenders." He was a slight and fragile hoy* small 
for his age, and though never intractable, inclined to obstinacy 
like his mother. Once he ran away after a quarrel with the 
deacon and was finally discovered halfway to Lynn headed 
for his mother. For the most part the Bartletts' spartan house- 
hold and Fanny's frequent letters of advice ensured his model 
behavior. If he received a thorough religious training, he was 
less fortunate in acquiring an education. Deacon Bartlett 
undertook to provide what he could for his schooling, but 


after three months of the luxury of grammar school he was 

withdrawn to help his foster parent earn his living, 

Fanny disliked Lynn only "necessity compels me to 
stay in it," she admitted. She missed Lloyd, and James was 
proving more than a handful In the company of fellow ap- 
prentices he had discovered rum. His revolt, like his father's, 
began and ended in the grogshop: at the age of fourteen he 
was well on the way to becoming an incurable alcoholic. 
Fanny, seeing the handiwork of Satan in his misbehavior, 
scolded and prayed over him but only succeeded in alienat- 
ing him further. James found in blackstrap and the laughter 
of wild companions the recognition he craved. "I took a 
drink, it was sweet, and from that fatal hour I became a 
drunkard." So runs James's confession of his fall from grace. 
"I soon got so I could take my glass as often as the master," 
he recalled, "and in a litde while it required double that 
quantity to satesfy [sic] my appetite." 12 From this point 
James's life became one long cycle of drinking bouts, brief 
periods of repentance, and the inevitable fall 

Fanny never stopped trying to save her older son and 
meanwhile tightened her grip on Lloyd. "Q Lloyd," she once 
wrote to him, "if I was to hear and have reason to think you 
was unsteady, it would break my heart. God forbid! You are 
now at an age when you are forming character for life, a 
dangerous age. Shun every appearance of evil for the sake of 
your soul as well as the body." 13 James rebelled against this 
compulsive righteousness, but Lloyd, secure in his mother's 
absence as well as her love, never felt the need to revolt 

With the coming of peace in 1815 Lloyd joined his mother 
and brother in Lynn. Soon after he arrived she apprenticed 
Mm to a Quaker shoemaker in Market Street, Gamaliel Oliver. 
Customers entering Oliver's shop in the year 1815 saw a frail, 
undersized boy of tea perched on a high stool and enveloped 


in a huge leather apron, his legs dangling beneath the heavy 
kpstone. Lloyd did not take readily to this new regimen. 
Pounding the leather into shape and stitching heavy boots 
seemed a poor kind of work. He had hardly finished his first 
pair of shoes, however, when Fanny packed up the family 
and moved to Baltimore, where another Lynn shoemaker* one 
Paul Newhall, had decided to establish a factory. Newhall 
agreed to hire the boys and board the family at his house, an 
arrangement that seemed a godsend to the desperate Fanny. 
In the autumn of 1815 the Garrisons sailed from Salem, and 
while Fanny busied herself with a nautical journal and the 
seasick Lloyd was confined to his cabin, James befriended 
the crew and assured himself of a full quota of rum* 

No sooner had the family settled in Baltimore than New- 
hairs ambitious project collapsed and Fanny took a position 
in the home of a local merchant to whom she apprenticed 
James. She fought all James's batdes for him and refused 
to believe the reports of his frequent misbehavior* His own 
stories of ill-treatment at the hands of his employer filled her 
with indignation, yet when he brought his friends home, she 
lectured them peevishly on the evils of strong drink and 
loose living. But James was already a hopeless case. Dis- 
satisfied with his job and fed up with his mother's preaching, 
he left Baltimore for Frederick, where he tried clerking in 
a store, quarreled with the owner, threatened the son with a 
knife, and was fired. He crawled back to Baltimore and his 
mother, who gave him her last fourteen dollars and a final 
lecture. "I promised to do better," James wrote of this last 
painful scene, "and left my parent in tears for the wellfare 
[sic] of her ruined son, I shall never forget that parting. It 
seemed my heart would burst, but I cotdd not shed a ttar/ >w 
James left for Lynn with the intention of retormng to the 
shoe trade, but within a few years quit his work and went to 


sea. Lloyd did not meet him again until twenty-five years 
later when, worn out by drinking and a life of debauchery, 
James came home to die. 

Garrison remembered little of this period of his life. The 
darkly romantic Baltimore of slave coffles and whipping posts 
was the product of his life there fifteen years later. The boy 
of ten was closely supervised by his mother and seldom strayed 
beyond her view. Life with the exacting Fanny must have 
been difficult, for he thought of nothing but returning to 
"Uncle BartlettV "He is so discontented," complained 
Fanny to Martha Farnham, "that he would leave me to- 
morrow and go with strangers to N.P.; he can't mention any 
of you without tears," 15 Reluctantly she submitted to his 
pleas to rejoin the Bartletts' and go back to school. In the 
summer of 1816 he was back in Newburyport for what 
proved to be the last of his formal education in the local 
grammar school As a young newspaperman. Garrison ad- 
mitted to a "very inferior education" and complained that 
he did not know "one single rule of grammar/' 16 His reading 
at this time consisted of such sermons and religious tracts as 
the pious deacon could afford; his social life was confined to 
the children's singing school and Sunday pilgrimages to 

The problem of placing him in a trade became more ur- 
gent when Fanny's health suddenly failed and she realized 
that soon she would be wholly dependent on her younger 
son. Finding a position to his liking was not easy. He flatly 
refused to clerk in a store and explained that without capital 
he could never set up for himself* Hopefully Fanny and 
Deacon Bardett apprenticed him to a Haverhill cabinetmaker, 
but at the end of sk weeks, lonely and unhappy, Lloyd ran 
away. Despairing of teaching the headstrong youngster a 
trade he clearly disliked, his master released him. Then the 


deacon noticed an advertisement of a position with the 
buryport Herald, and Lloyd dutifully applied* The editor, 
Ephraim W, Allen, took an immediate liking to the keen hut 
stubborn boy, and on October 18, 1818, Lloyd was ap- 
prenticed to Allen for the term of seven years. Garrison never 
tired of affirming the providential nature of his choice, which 
put into his hands "the great instrumentalities for the final 
overthrow of the slave system, . . . Had I not been a prac- 
tical printer an expert compositor and able to work at the 
press there would have been no Liberator." 17 Divine pres- 
ence aside, his real education had begun. 

The Young Conservative 

FROM 1818 to 1825 Lloyd Garrison went to school to New 
England conservatism in the offices of the Newburyport 
Herald and graduated an expert printer and a loyal Federalist, 
Along with a mastery of the mechanics of printing he ac- 
quired principles and prejudices which he kept all his life. 

The printing trade fascinated the thirteen-year-old boy 
from the beginning. So small at first that he had to perch on 
top of a fifty-six-pound weight to reach the compositor's 
box, he nevertheless learned easily, and it was not long before 
he could handle the composing stick better than any of Allen's 
apprentices. The editor taught him the importance of clean 
copy, and soon he could set a thousand ems an hour without 
a mistake. 

He boarded with his employer. Editor Allen, recognizing 
the boy's voracious appetite for learning, fed it as best he 
could, Lloyd read constantly and indiscriminately Shake- 
speare and the sentimental novelists, Pope, Byron, the Waverly 
novels and Mrs. Felicia Hemans, and the polemics of Federal- 
ist scribblers. The Herald office opened a new world of poli- 
tics and literature to the young apprentice, who began to 
dream of entering that world as a man of letters in his own 
right* Under Allen's tutelage he developed a keen interest in 
the management of the paper aid the Federalist politicians 

28 THEL ^^ 

of the town. Midway in his apprenticeship, when Lloyd was 
seventeen, Allen advanced him to shop foreman with the 
responsibility for making up the paper, 

Lloyd found his friends among the other apprentices in 
Newburyport, poor boys like himself who could not afford 
an education and approached the business of self-improvement 
in deadly earnest. His closest friend was William (Joss 
Crocker, an ardent Baptist and later a missionary to Liberia. 
Toby Miller was working at the Herald to earn his tuition 
at Andover Seminary. Isaac Knapp, another member of the 
circle, was a companionable but ineffectual young man who 
also hungered for fame. He and Lloyd became fast friends 
and eventual partners in the Liberator. The liveliest of 
Lloyd's acquaintances was Thomas Bennett, an adventurer and 
amateur classicist who was preparing a translation of Cicero's 

Along with these friends Lloyd accepted the narrowing 
horizons of Newburyport, He joined the franklin Club, a 
local debating society, and spent evenings arguing whether 
mixed dancing injured the morals of young females or whether 
democracy fostered the arts. The friends met regularly in a 
room over Oilman's bookstore to read poetry and compose 
pale imitations of the saccharine verses of Mrs* Hcmans. 
Lloyd attended church regularly and sang in the choir* 
Although he never became a member, he delighted in weighty 
sermons, studied the Bible and pondered the doctrines of 
plenary inspiration and the second blessing. He was nearly 
the "complete Baptist" his mother had predicted* a "devout 
legalist" with all the orthodox persuasions* 

To his friends he seemed something of a prig* for they 
found his uncommon gravity amusing. "He was an exceed- 
ingly genteel young man," one of them remembered, "always 
neatly, and perhaps I might say elegantly dressed, and m 


good taste, and was quite popular with the ladies." 1 Another 
recalled him as a "handsome and attractive youth, unusually 
dignified in his bearing for so young a man." 2 Already he saw 
himself as a man of probity, Oblivious to the charges of 
prudery, he fashioned an image of the young man of senti- 
ment to whom all things mattered deeply. In time this image 
grew into a public role which he learned to play with con- 
summate skill. The Garrisonian myth sprang from this care- 
fully cultivated notion of himself which the eighteen-year-old 
apprentice offered to his friends the figure of the true 
Christian gentleman who is in but not of the world. It was 
not just a pose; Lloyd was self-righteous but he was not a 
hypocrite. Despite his apparent freedom he was still his 
mother's son raised on her twin convictions that virtue is 
its own reward and that piety is the final test of character. 
Fanny Garrison bequeathed to her son an obsession with 
purity and her own secret craving for power and respect. 
Like her he thirsted for recognition he would be admired, 
though for what he did not yet know. But it was wrong, he 
suspected, not to take life seriously, and this meant first of all 
being serious with oneself. Once he found a cause he would 
have fame soon enough. Meanwhile he wore the look of 
dedication that puzzled his friends as they wondered just 
what it was he sought 

After the return of peace with England the Newburyport 
Herald continued to offer its readers the same wholesome 
Federalist fare it had supplied for twenty years. As the organ 
of the party in Essex County North it had changed litde 
since the days when its first editor lauded the "free and 
valuable'* administration of John Adams* Ephraim Allen had 
arrived in town about the turn of the century and during 
New England's long night of opposition to the Virginia dy- 
nasty had served the cause faithfully with jeremiads on 


democracy and appeals to the good sense of propertied gentle- 
men. When Lloyd Garrison entered his office in 1818, Allen 
was still busy trying to rejuvenate a moribund Federalism that 
had barely survived the Hartford Convention, In this un- 
rewarding work he soon had occasion to enlist the editorial 
talents of his apprentice. 

Young Garrison's education was no mere flirtation with 
the spirit of conservatism but a thorough indoctrination in 
Federalist legend and lore. The files of the Herald held a 
whole library of party history, from the secessionist schemes 
of Timothy Pickering to the ill-fated deliberations of the 
Hartford Convention. All the spoils of a thirty-year war of 
words lay at Lloyd's fingertips. He studied the dire prophe- 
cies of Fisher Ames, lingered over the oratorical flourishes 
of Harrison Gray Otis, relished the caustic phrases of Timothy 
Pickering, and thrilled to the harangues of free-swinging 
Federalist editors of an earlier day. The epic of New Eng- 
land's straggle against Democracy and Infidelity was charged 
with all the drama and suspense, the histrionics and the pag- 
eantry needed to capture the loyalty of a high-principled 
young blood. From these Federalist stalwarts Lloyd (earned 
both the art of dramaturgy and the difficult science of fight- 
ing impossible odds. 

The archpriest of Federalist journalism was Benjamin Run- 
sell, who in announcing the advent of a new "era of good 
feeEngs" in 1815 admitted only to the willingness of Mas- 
sachusetts to forgive an errant Republic its mistakes* In thus 
proclaiming the magnanimity of New England* Russell put 
the official Federalist seal on the trace with die rest of the 
country as well as on the party's admission of defeat* Re- 
pudiated at the polls again in 181:6, the spirit of Federalism 
retired to the chill libraries of Essex County mansions where 
elderly admirers of Timothy Pickering reminisced over the 


lost greatness of the Junto. As he read the partisan accounts 
of the battles against democracy, Lloyd Garrison concluded 
that Federalism still lived. What the party needed, he con- 
vinced himself, was a new editor cut to the pattern of Benja- 
min Russell, whose hammer-like blows struck sparks of truth. 
Who knew but that someday Russell's mantle might fall on 
him? It was a dream worth cultivating. While New England 
joined the rest of the country in opening the New West, 
Lloyd turned back to the lost engagements of Federalist his- 
tory and learned his lessons so well that soon he could recall 
with the best of High Street gentlemen the evil days when 
"the ghost of democracy stalked through our towns, carrying 
desolation and death to the rights and liberties of the people." 3 

Newburyport had been the home of Federalism even before 
John Adams coined the term Essex Junto for its knot of dis- 
contented and obstinate conservatives. Not many cities on 
the seaboard could match its roster of distinguished Federalists 
-* Congressmen Thcophihis Parsons, Stephen Higginson, and 
Tristram Dalton, Judge John Lowell, and the merchant 
princes Jonathan Jackson and Nathaniel Tracy. Joined to 
Salern's Chestnut Street and Boston's State Street, the elm- 
shaded walks along High Street formed the backbone of 
Massachusetts Federalism. Boston boasted of the wealth of 
newly arrived Essex County 6migr6$, but Newburyport and 
Salem, where aristocratic discontent cooled the Indian summer 
of the party, were the real centers of conservative opinion in 

In the Federalist view the future of the country ky not in 
the West with its wild notions of equality and license but in 
settled coastal villages like Newburyport where people lived 
sober and decent lives. To aid them in their struggle against 
the New West the New England Federalists invoked a myth 
as old as John Wkthrop's City on a HiU the myth of New 


England's mission to civilize the wilderness. The New Eng- 
land mission, preached by politicians and clergymen alike, 
reinforced a sectional pride that lived on after the death of 
the Federalist Party into a new age when the slavery contro- 
versy gave it the appearance of fact. 

This faith in the peculiar destiny of New England was the 
intellectual heritage of Lloyd Garrison. He came to believe 
in the superiority of his section as firmly as in the stern God 
of the Baptists. In Fisher Ames and Timothy Pickering he 
discovered the naturally appointed leaders of the nation. As 
he studied the history of the secessionist movement in New 
England it seemed to him that never had Massachusetts been 
so glorious as when, outmaneuvered by a hostile administra- 
tion, she refused to support an unjust war and retreated into 
splendid isolation. The lofty ideals in which the Junto enve- 
loped their plots seized the imagination of the budding 
Federalist. In 1845, at the height of the slavery controversy in 
Massachusetts, he would argue for separation from the Union 
in terms which were essentially those of his spiritual guide 
and mentor, Timothy Pickering. 

As the captain of New England secessionism Pickering 
always identified his cause with righteousness. "I am dis- 
gusted with the men who now rule and with their measures/* 
he wrote to Rufus King in 1804* ". * . I am therefore ready 
to say 'Come out from among them, and be ye separate** "* 
When corruption, he went on, was the object and instrument 
of the President and the tendency of his administration, what 
was left but to withdraw? Pickering foresaw nothing but 
peace and harmony resulting from secession. The South 
would need the naval protection of the North, which in turn 
would require agricultural products from the Southern Con- 
federacy. Pickering's real reasons for advocating secession, 
however, were political "I believe, indeed," he argued with 


the precise logic of the unworldly, "that, if a Northern con- 
federacy were forming, our Southern brethren would be 
seriously alarmed, and probably abandon their virulent meas- 

ures." 8 

Forty years later Garrison proposed Northern secession in 
almost identical terms. He never read Pickering's correspond- 
ence and would have denied the similarity of their arguments. 
The parallel is nonetheless striking. As a self-appointed judge 
of American life, Pickering displayed the same unbending 
rectitude and disregard of consequences that marked Garri- 
son's anti-slavery views. Pickering, to be sure, expressed no 
very strong opinions on slavery his opposition to the system 
extended no further than an objection to the three-fifths 
clause. In 1812 he was perfectly willing to unite with South- 
ern slaveholders in detaching the West. In pursuing his 
version of truth he was no more consistent than Garrison. 
Pickering would have abhorred the doctrines of the Liberator , 
and Garrison lived to disown both the Revolutionary genera- 
tion of which Pickering was a member and the Constitution 
he helped to ratify. Yet both men, each in his own time, tried 
to capture the revolutionary tradition, the first in, defense of 
minority privilege, the other in support of human rights. 

Only as the last-ditch stand of a repressed minority can 
New England Federalism and Garrisonian abolitionism be 
compared. Still, Pickering's plots contained the ingredients 
for martyrdom as his pupil was quick to see. There was just 
enough tenacity in young Garrison for him to recognize his 
hero's dedication and reckless determination. Narrow and 
pharLsaical Pickering certainly was, but when he stood forth 
as the champion of sectional interests in the face of national 
hostility, he appeared the personification of virtue, a man of 
"unsullied reputation*" It was no coincidence that Lloyd 
Garrison made his debut on the political stage in the role 


of a young Galahad rescuing a languishing Federalism and 
burnishing the tarnished reputation of its spokesman. 

Lloyd noticed as he worked at the compositor's desk that 
most of the communications from readers that crossed Allen's 

desk eventually found their way into print. A perennial 
source of native American humor and no doubt a favorite 
topic in the Franklin Club was the blessings of bachelorhood, 
Lloyd made his first appearance in print at the age of eighteen 
in a letter defending this time-honored institution and warn- 
ing against "Hymen's silken chains" and brawling and con- 
tentious females. 7 

From domestic tyranny, "An Old Bachelor/ 1 as he styled 
himself, turned to adventure a fictional account of a ship- 
wreck less significant for its complete ignorance of nautical 
matters than for its unconscious religious and sexual symbol- 
ism. Sailing from Bermuda to Liverpool, the narrator is 
awakened in the middle of the night by a crash which "pre- 
cipitated me out of my birth [sic] against the opposite side 
of the room." Groping his way to the deck, he finds that the 
vessel has struck a reef and "bilged." Quickly he clambers 
into a Hfeboat filled with the members of the crew and pushes 
off into the storm. There is a terrifying glare of lightning, 
but a dead silence surrounds the lifeboat. Suddenly a giant 
wave swamps the fragile longboat, and the narrator, "being 
an expert swimmer," seizes an par and strikes off alone* 

I heard the groans of my expiring companions re-echo over the 

vast expanse of waters, fainter and more faint, and then - all was 
silent! An awful and most horrible stillness reigned: 1 murmured 

agaiast that Providence who had so wonderfully preserved my 
life before it was a moment of despair; I thought, or fancied 
I thought, that one of my dying companions was grasping me 
with the strength of a giant, and endeavoring to draw me under 


with him or that some terrible monster of the deep was swallow- 
ing me tip in his terrific jaws a cold trfemor pervaded my whole 
frame my head grew dizzy, and my senses were completely 
worked up to a frenzy I uttered a piercing shriek, and swooned 


He awakes to find himself miraculously cast up oa a 
sandy beach with his oar "grasped firmly" in his hands- 8 

This thinly disguised drama of salvation prefigures die pat- 
tern of Garrison's adult life. The anxiety and self-alienation, 
the overwhelming sense of guilt and total reliance on God's 
grace disclose a personality less concerned with the claims of 
people than with the awesome commands of a father. Like 
his narrator in the tale, Garrison would be ready to abandon 
his comrades in his struggle for salvation. Already Fanny 
Garrison's convictions were hardening into a protective au- 
thoritarianism over the insecurity of her eighteen-year-old 

With pardonable pride Lloyd wrote to his mother of his 
astonishment u at the different subjects which I have discussed, 
and the style in which they are written." He assured her that 
he was successfully cultivating "the seeds of improvement" 
and developing his intellectual powers. 9 In fact, his was a 
mediocre literary talent. He lacked a feeling for the sound 
and shape of words as well as a natural sense of rhythm. As 
he modeled his work on the accepted journalistic style of the 
day he came to depend on an Addisonian rhetoric that al- 
ways shackled his prose. James Russell Lowell once observed 
that there is death in the dictionary, that true vigor does not 
pass from page to page, but from man to man. It is just this 
absence of human contact that mars Garrison's mature style. 
At best in a handful of Liberator editorials his words, though 
inspired by passion, are rhetorical and impersonal. More often 


they are simply turgid and monotonous. These youthful at- 
tempts, like so much of his later writing, betray the failure 
of feeling in a shallow and unimaginative mind. They may 
have kept him from wasting time, as he told his mother, "in 
that dull, senseless, insipid manner which generally character- 
izes giddy youths," but they hardly justified the "signal 
success 17 he claimed for them with readers of the Herald. 

Lloyd's obvious need for new ideas was supplied by Caleb 
Gushing, whose return to Newburyport in 1821 helped widen 
his young friend's intellectual horizons. Gushing was the 
son of a wealthy local merchant and a recent graduate of 
Harvard, where first as a student and then as a tutor he had 
discussed politics with Harvard's young scholars, George 
Bancroft, Jared Sparks, and Edward Everett, He had even 
written an article for Everett's North American R&ui&w de- 
nouncing slavery, which he traced to prejudices of the whites 
"with regard to the minds of the blacks whom we desired to 
believe incapable of elevation, order and improvement/* 10 
He condemned slavery as unchristian and unrealistic but added 
significantly that emancipation posed insoluble problems. In 
1821 Gushing came home to practice law as a first step toward 
entering politics. Cosmopolitan and urbane, he brought a 
new tone to the Herald, whose staff he joined first on a part- 
time basis and then, in Allen's absence, as temporary editor, 

It was Gushing who first called young Garrison's attention 
to slavery. To be sure, New England had disapproved of the 
institution ever since the Revolution, and for years the three- 
fifths clause of the Constitution had been a stormy issue in 
Congress and the subject of much debate back home* A 
serious student of Federalism like Lloyd could hardly have 
avoided the pronouncements of his heroes on the evils of 
slavery. Even the Herald carried occasional accounts of aboli- 
tion in England and news of the American Colonizadon 


Society. From his mother he had learned that slavery and 
true Christian spirit were incompatible. During a nearly fatal 
attack of consumption Fanny wrote him of her colored nurse, 
"so kind no one can tell how kind she is, and although a 
Slave to Man, yet a freeborn soul, by the Grace of God." 11 
This Lloyd knew well enough, but absorbed in the fascinat- 
ing business of acquiring a reputation, he did not regard 
slavery as a serious problem until Gushing opened his eyes. 
Cushing's scruples mirrored the confusion of a growing 
opinion in New England that condemned slavery in the ab- 
stract but hesitated for political reasons to meddle with it. 

Slavery was not the only topic which Lloyd discussed with 
his new friend. Gushing lent him books and urged him to 
undertake other challenging subjects. Revolutions in South 
America, rebellions in Greece, uprisings in Verona and Naples 
all seemed to forecast the eventual triumph of the people over 
the forces of reaction and repression, Lloyd's investigation of 
the South American revolts led him to denounce American 
foreign policy in ringing tones. If the new republics could not 
rid themselves of "the dross of superstition and tyranny" on 
their own, they must be taught to enforce justice and pay 
due respect to the American flag. Coercion held the answer, 
"The only expedient to command respect and protect our 
citizens will be to finish with the cannon what cannot be done 
in a conciliatory manner, where justice demands such pro- 
ceedings.** w The appeal to force came easily to young Garri- 
son, Christian nonresistance lay far in the future, a cause to 
be fervently embraced until war promised to accomplish what 
moral suasion alone could not* Forty years later Garrison 
would return to this youthful conviction that since the right 
is mighty, one must not cavil at the just use of. force, 

In 18x3 Massachusetts Federalists chose Harrison Gray 
Otis as their candidate for governor* The campaign of one 


of his heroes gave Lloyd his first real chance to defend the 

principles of Federalism and the reputation of an idol which 
had been severely damaged by the Hartford Convention. 
A new cause recpired a new nom de plume. On March 14, 
1823, the Herald ran the first of a series of letters signed "One 
of the People' 7 extolling the "superior intellect" of 1 Harrison 
Gray Otis and the Federalists. Otis may have been Lloyd's 
ideal statesman, but as a gubernatorial candidate he proved 
a distinct liability. Unable to explain the "deep lethargy" into 
which the Federalist Party had fallen, Lloyd prepared for 
the worst by warning of the "tremendous evik n that would 
accompany Otis's probable defeat* 

. . then it is that we are forced, however reluctantly, to cast 
back our recollections to those destructive measures which were 
adopted by our oponents by which the liberties of our people 
were hazarded with impunity, as the friendly beacon for every 
true Federal Republican to remain in the course he has strictly 
pursued, which carries him safe from the shoals of delusion, upon 
which his enemies are wrecked* 13 

Delusion prevailed: Otis carried Newbnryport but lost 

Essex County and the rest of the state. "One of the People 1 * 
retired into editorial limbo* 

These early editorials evidence more passion than political 
acumen* Slowly the young man was mastering the difficult 
art of avoiding argument Temperamentally unfitted for the 
work of logical exposition, he simply was not happy with 
ideas. His effectiveness as a Federalist propagandist and later 
as an anti-slavery agitator depended less on an analysis than 
a total disregard of other people's ideas. Already he disdained 
to treat his adversaries seriously: convinced that only malice 
could explain the wanton attacks on Otis, he refused to in- 


vcstigate them. This studied contempt for his opponents 
furnishes the key to his peculiar use of language. Beneath the 
invective and the vituperation lay a belief in the moral de- 
pravity of those who disagreed with him. He accepted the 
Federalist myth at face value to him the Republicans really 
were a "turbulent faction" rallying around a "rebellious 
standard." Violence to fact troubled the neophyte Federalist 
no more than it did the abolitionist editor. Even now he viewed 
the American political scene as the stage for a morality play 
and politicians as Bunyanesque symbols of good and evil. 
These editorial experiments written with a conviction worthy 
of a better cause show the hardening mind of a zealot. 

By the summer of 1823 Fanny Garrison was dying of con- 
sumption and longed to see her younger son once more. 
Reluctantly he agreed to come to Baltimore since he disliked 
leaving home just when he was becoming a success. His 
determination to become an author stiffened his mother's 
resistance. "You have no doubt read," she warned him in a 
last letter before his arrival, "of the fate of such characters, 
that they generally starve to death in some garret or place 
that no one inhabits; so you may see what fortune and luck 
belong to you if you are of that class of people/' 14 Lloyd 
found her weak and bedridden and was strangely moved by 
their reunion. "You must imagine my sensations/* he wrote 
to Allen, "on beholding a dearly loved mother, after an 
absence of seven years* I found her in tears but O God, so 
altered, so emaciated, that I should never have recognized her, 
had I not known there was none else in the room," 15 Early 
in September, 1823, Fanay died, and after attending to her 
burial Lloyd returned to Newburyport. 

It was not to the solaces of his mother's religion that Lloyd 
turned in the next year but to the forthcoming presidential 
election. Nowhere did the tides of partisan political feeling 


run higher in the spring and summer of 1824 than in Essex 
County, where diehard members of the old Junto plotted to 
sabotage the campaign of John Quincy Adams, that "rank 
apostate" from true Federalism, and throw the state to 
William H. Crawford. As the campaign neared its climax 
Garrison, now an open champion of Pickering and the Junto, 
deserted the columns of the Herald for those of the Salem 
Gazette to lambaste Adams and loudly proclaim the little- 
known merits of Crawford. With the first of a series of edi- 
torials entitled "The Crisis" and signed "Aristides" he was 
back in the political arena again offering his dubious talents 
in the service of another lost cause, 

In Crawford, he discovered the son of a humble farmer 
struggling against the adversities of life; in Adams, the son 
of an ex-President rolling in wealth and supported by his sire's 
popularity. Scarcely more accurate was his characterization 
of Andrew Jackson, who by the late summer had begun to 
outdistance his rivals. Open letters to Jackson from irate 
Federalists flooded the New England press, and Garrison, not 
to be outdone, devoted two columns to apprising the general 
of his unfitness for the exacting duties of public office* Jack- 
son, he warned, possessed the "savage and domineering spirit" 
of one "born and bred up in the field." As for the people 
the same electorate presumably intelligent enough to elect 
Crawford they were not to be trusted. Here speaks the 
true Federalist: 

Sir, republics are always in danger; aspiring and designing men 

can easily cheaply purchase the tools of faction, to consummate 
their wishes. The views of the people, however pure and upright 
they may first be, are nevertheless shuffling and fickle when the*se 
insidious agents are let loose upon the community* Flattery 


judiciously disposed, can lull them into the by-paths of error, and 
prejudice will warp and mislead them. 16 

With a final warning to the freemen of Massachusetts to 
look to their liberties and elect Crawford, "Aristides" retired 
from the conflict, Massachusetts guarded her freedom by 
voting solidly for John Quincy Adams. To all but the credu- 
lous Lloyd Garrison it was clear that the Federalist Party 
was dead. lie would make one last attempt to raise the 
spirit of conservatism before joining the ranks of Adams's 
supporters in 1828. By then he was four years too late. 

The year 1825 saw Lloyd back on the Herald for his last 
year of apprenticeship. His life for the next twelve months 
was uneventful, for Newburyport still slumbered untouched 
by the currents of reform that were gathering in New York 
and the Ohio Valley. The Franklin Club met regularly, and 
he rehearsed his speeches in the solitude of the local cemetery, 
practicing for the time when he could deliver his maiden 
political address. His appetite for literature involved him in a 
heated exchange with John Neal, the Yankee humorist, in 
the first round of an editorial scrap which lasted for years. 
Neal surveyed the American literary scene for the readers 
of Bhck r wood' ) $ and pronounced it a barren waste. His dis- 
missal of such worthies as Joel Barlow and Thomas Fessenden 
brought Garrison charging to their defense in a long and 
belligerent essay in which he dismissed Neal as a madman 
"fitter to be confined for real downright insanity and clothed 
in a straight jacket, than obtruding his pestiferous productions 
upon the public." 17 America, he admitted, still required the 
finishing hand of time, but there was a rich harvest of fame 
shortly to be gathered in. Fie might have added that he meant 
to share in that harvest 

Lloyd celebrated his twentieth birthday with the end of his 


apprenticeship. His had been an education in sentiment: he had 
learned to pay lip service to the conservative principles of 
Federalism though as yet he scarcely understood them. What 
appealed to him most was the romantic spirit of revolt in the 
last stand of the old seaboard aristocracy. The fact that 
Pickering's rebellion had been a war of revenge, that the 
Junto acted from personal hatred only added the color of 
personalities to a moral issue. High-mindcdness and self- 
deception make an inflammable mixture. In time the seces- 
sionist impulse of the Federalists fused with the most temperate 
of social philosophies would produce that peculiar com- 
pound which another generation called "Garrisonism." For all 
their bellicose spirit, however, these editorial experiments 
were the work of a fledgling reformer still casting about for a 

In December, 1825, Garrison left the Herald. More than 
anything else now he wanted a newspaper of his own and a 
chance to be a force outside politics. He knew that words 
would be his means to power and that he could manipulate 
them to make himself the fearless crusader he wanted to be 
they were his instruments for transforming a private vision 
into a public role. Three months after leaving the Herald 
he had established himself as sole owner, editor and printer 
of the Newburyport Free Press* 

AUen, advanced him the money for his venture, which 
turned out to be a poor risk. The small-town newspaper at 
this time served as the handmaiden of the politician and 
shared his fate when the election returns came in* Sk months 
before an important national election local party members 
would rent a room, hire an editor on a one-year contr&cr, 
and buy a press with just enough type to print a serviceable 
party bulletin. After the election, depending on the 
of their candidate, they might continue the sheet as a party 


organ or sell it to the next adventurer for a song. The latter 
was the case with the Free Press, or Northern Chronicler, as 
it was originally called by the Jacksonian clique which 
founded it in 1824. The next year they sold it to Isaac Knapp, 
Lloyd Garrison's earnest friend; but Knapp had neither a 
nose for news nor a head for figures, and six months of 
struggling with his creditors convinced him that the town 
could not or would not support two newspapers. Accord- 
ingly, on March 16, 1826, he announced his retirement for 
reasons of health and the transfer of his paper to "MR. 
WILLIAM L. GARRISON, a young gentleman who possesses a 
thorough knowledge of the business, and of known talent 
and integrity." 18 It took the new owner just six months to 
realize he had made a bad bargain. 

To set his paper on the proper course Garrison rechristened 
it the Free Press, a title, he explained, "sonorous and politically 
more appropriate.'*^ In the very first issue he announced his 
independence of all parties and factions. Readers' doubts as to 
the new editor's political views, however, were quickly dis- 
pelled when they discovered on the masthead the old Federal- 
ist slogan Onr Country Our Whole Country And Noth- 
ing But Our Country, There could be no doubt as to which 
was the side of the angels: the Free Press trumpeted its 
editor's militant Federalism. 

Now an enterprising young man stepping into the political 
scene in 1826 might have ensured his own future and that of 
his newspaper in one of two ways. He could offer Ms ser- 
vices to the followers of John Quincy Adams or he could 
join the liberal insurgents in the administration party who 
were chafing under the leadership of Boston "nabobs'' and 
contemplating a new political party. In all the confusion of 
shif ting party alignments one fact was clear the old Federal- 
ist Party was dead. To ignore its demise was to indulge in 



fantasies; to attempt to perpetuate the ideals and aspirations 
of the Essex Junto was to court political suicide. Yet Lloyd 
Garrison, neglecting the example of wiser men, determined 
to hold fast to the spirit of Fisher Ames, lie would rake the 
ashes of sectionalism until, phoenix-like, the Party of the 
Wise and the Good rose again in all its pristine glory. 

He opened his revival by presenting Massachusetts* war 
claims to the national government, a shopworn Federalist 
article that had been retailed without success in Washington 
for ten years. The Old Colony, he admitted, would no longer 
threaten secession; but it was folly to deny that her confi- 
dence had been weakened "that her faith in the integrity 
of government has become speculative; that her rights have 
been invaded; and, finally, that she feels deeply and sensibly 
the glaring insult to her character."* The citizens of New- 
buryport expressed their indifference to the question of their 
integrity by canceling their subscriptions. In three weeks* 
time he had purged his list of all but a few stanch Federalists, 
Undismayed by this wholesale desertion, he fired off an 
editorial at the defectors accusing them of plotting against 
freedom of the press* "The gag shall be applied only when 
we are helpless," he declared. 21 

His editorials showed only a meager understanding of 
American politics* With his propensity for hero-worship he 
idealized the system as a machine originally designed to 
produce the great man but badly operated by scheming 
politicians for their own corrupt purposes. Compromise 
politics as the art of the possible he could not understand* 
The more he studied politics the more convinced he became 
of its utter wrongfulness. There was something vicious about 
backstairs conferences, secret bargains and haggling over 
votes. Even party organization seemed sinister. Political 
decisions, he felt, ought to be made openly in public view by 


upright men with correct principles, and parties should func- 
tion as open markets for moral axioms. In the public arena, 
in full view of the citizenry, the great man would emerge and, 
using the force of his superior judgment, rise to immediate 
leadership. The fate of American democracy, he concluded, 
hinged on its use of such leadership. 

Garrison distrusted politics not simply because he feared 
power but because he wanted it. Although he showed few 
of the outward signs of a child of adversity, he hungered 
for recognition. His father had been a ne'er-do-well. He had 
a drunkard for a brother. His mother had died an abandoned 
and bitter woman. He had been denied an education and a 
chance to enter a profession. If it took perseverance to make 
himself known, he had plenty of that. As he looked about 
him at the giants of New England Daniel Webster, Harri- 
son Gray Otis, Lyman Beecher he gathered that character 
was the key to success. All of his idols were public figures 
with powerful personalities that lifted them above the crowd. 
Webster's beetled brows and flashing eyes matched the 
thunderous tones of his speeches and lent personal force to 
the grandeur of his American dream. Lyman Beecher, the 
emblem of Puritan righteousness, hammered his pulpit as if it 
were an anvil striking sparks of divine zeal Harrison Gray 
Otis, another of the New England titans, also used the spoken 
word to advertise his genius. All three of Garrison's heroes 
were spellbinders who inspired awe by the sheer force of their 
personalities. It seemed to him that the secret of their power 
lay in a union of virtue and strength. Ironically, all three 
would soon disillusion him by disclosing the very lack of 
moral fiber he credited them with. Meanwhile the editor 
of the Free Press decided to follow their example and cast 
himself into a role which would give full play to his driving 


Thus personalities rather than politics determined the 
course of the Free Press. Without a sturdy political platform 

Garrison could only stand on the conviction that controversy 
would sell newspapers and earn him a reputation as a crusader 
for truth. He perfected a high moral tone and studied abuse, 
dubbing Henry Clay "our immaculate Secretary of State** 
and William B. Giles a "jewel in the tarnished crown of 
the Old Dominion." Rival editors he dismissed as political 
brawlers and mountebanks, political opponents as insignifi- 
cant politicians with paltry artifices. Soon this calculated 
belligerence provoked a quarrel, and significantly, his first 
editorial dispute involved his benefactor and now rival editor, 
Ephraim Allen* 

When Jefferson and Adams died on the fiftieth anniversary 
of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Allen 
treated his readers to a panegyric. Garrison decided to catch 
his former employer out. The editor of the Herald 9 he com- 
plained, was guilty of indecorum and language both rhapsodi- 
cal and offensive, since everyone knew that Jefferson's deist 
views inculcated a loose morality. Allen countered with a 
reminder of his rival's youth and inexperience and recom- 
mended a more charitable tone. This "mock dignity 1 * was 
too much for the thin-skinned Garrison, who let loose a volley 
of invective at Allen: 

He has flattered himself too highly to imagine that we are am- 
bitious of breaking a lance with him. We shall look for a better 
antagonist Here, the victory would not be the equivalent to our 

condescension. We disclaim having made, at the beginning, any 
^attack' he alone has provoked it But in our plenitude, we have 
already been too prodigal of favors. Every word, which we have 
bestowed upon the caterer for the Herald, has conic from m with 


the same reluctance that we should sacrifice so many U.S. Bank- 
notes. He has therefore the sum of our generosity. 22 

If he hazarded Allen's friendship in his haste to get ahead, 

he gained two new friends at this time in John Greenleaf 

Whittier and William Ladd. Whittier and Ladd were har- 
bingers of a season of Christian reform that came to New- 
buryport in the spring of 1826. They represented a kind of 
religious zeal which was new to Garrison, and their ideas 
led him to the doorstep of the evangelical reform movement. 
The story of his discovery of Whittier and his part in estab- 
lishing him as a poet was one Garrison never tired of telling. 

One morning in the late spring of 1826 he entered his office 
to find slipped under the door a letter from HaverhiU written 
in violet ink in a spidery feminine hand. Enclosed he found 
a poem, "The Exile's Departure," signed "W," which Whit- 
tier's eighteen-year-old sister had secretly copied and sent to 
Garrison for his comments. Garrison fancied himself a critic 
of discernment as well as a poet, and he took great pride 
in the literary column of his paper. His aesthetic creed, drawn 
from the precepts of New England thcocrats, was both rigid 
and narrow. He demanded subjects selected with "skill and 
judgment," poetic themes spotlessly pure, "lofty emotion" 
and "deep pathos," verse heavily freighted with "that darling 
figure," personification. The reigning queen, of Garrison's 
world of fancy was Mrs, Felicia Hemans, that "wonderful and 
extraordinary woman," whose syrupy concoctions blended 
chaste passion and female virtue in just the right proportions. 
He commended her works to his readers with the assurance 
that they would find them "pure as the cloudless skies of an 
Italian summer/' Whittier's poem, which drew heavily on this 
sentimental tradition, met every test in the Garrisonian canon* 
He printed it in his next issue accompanied by the following 

43 THE k* BERAT K| J^ 

Invitation: "If *W/ at Haverhill, will continue to favor us 
with pieces beautiful as the one inserted in our poetical depart- 
ment for to-day, we shall esteem it a favor." 23 

Once he learned the young poet's identity, he wanted to 
meet him. He hired a buggy and, accompanied by a young 
lady, drove to the Whittier farm and introduced himself. 
Whittier, he remembered, entered the parlor "with shrinking 
diffidence, almost unable to speak, and blushing like a 
maiden." 24 Warming to his role of patron, Garrison gave him 
fatherly encouragement and lectured his parents on the need 
to cultivate genius. "We endeavored to speak chceringly of 
the prospects of their son," he later explained, "we dwelt upon 
the impolicy of warring against nature, of striving to quench 
the first kindlings of a flame which might bum like a star in 
our literary horizon and we spoke too of fame." Whatever 
the effects of this harangue on the taciturn John Whittier, 
his son responded to Garrison's encouragement by sending 
him sixteen more poems, all of which he published* 

Whittier set Garrison thinking. In these poems Whittier 
was beginning to give artistic form to his Quaker beliefs. 
The poems developed the themes of the inner light, renuncia- 
tion of pride, and service to Christ, not as mystical visions 
of another world but as practical guides to action* This piety 
and quiet intensity challenged Garrison to examine his ideas* 
Whittier's faith in the goodness of men his passionate con- 
viction that God dwells in every soul conflicted sharply 
with Garrison's orthodox persuasions. Fanny Garrison's God 
had been a stern and righteous judge of human sin, and her 
son grew to manhood secure in the belief in innate depravity 
and original sin, the atoning blood of Christ, and the divinity 
of the Sabbath, His conservative political bias was reinforced 
by the conviction acquired from the New England clergy 
that only the moral force of orthodoxy could save a demo- 


cratic people from drifting into atheism and degeneracy. 
The Free Press joined in denouncing the cardinal American 
sins of Sabbath-breaking, free thought, dueling, prostitution, 
theater-going, and tippling. By the time he met Whittier his 
religious sentiments had hardened into a joyless and militant 

Whittier's poetry revealed a militancy of a different sort, 
a sympathy for the downtrodden that Garrison had yet to 
experience. His poems denounced war and violence, con- 
demned wealth and fame as "mad'ning zeal" and "earthly 
pride." His Quaker prophecy of a world of endless bloom 
"far beyond the reach of time" suddenly seemed more appeal- 
ing than Fanny's dire predictions. If Whittier's practical 
simplicity still eluded Garrison, he understood his young 
friend's appeal to conscience and was touched by it. Whit- 
tier showed him that a Christian life was not an impossibility. 
Temperamental opposites they certainly were; Whittier, shy, 
painfully self-conscious, introspective; Garrison, ebullient 
and aggressive. Yet each possessed a moral ardor that the 
other recognized and respected. Whittier became firmly at- 
tached to his benefactor and followed him into the anti- 
slavery camp in 1833- Although he grew increasingly critical 
of Garrison's aims and methods thereafter and finally broke 
with him altogether, he continued to defend him against 
critics long after their close friendship died. In him Garrison 
found that rarity among reformers a man as dedicated and 
strong-willed as himself with whom he could not quarrel 

Soon after his meeting with Whittier he discovered William 
Ladd, the Yankee pacifist and founder of the American Peace 
Society, whose visit to Newburyport in the summer of 1826 
launched him on his career of Christian reform. The handful 
of parishioners who gathered in the Congregational Meeting- 
House in Newburyport on a June evening in 1826 expecting 

5 THE 

another pious sermon on the "peace question" found William 
Ladd something of an anomaly. A huge mountain of a man, 
carelessly dressed, with an easygoing manner that belied his 

enormous energy, Ladd was no religious ascetic but a retired 
sea captain with a Falstaffian wit. To Garrison, who listened 
carefully as Ladd took the measure of his subject in the salty 
phrases of a seaman, he seemed a huge compound of fat, good 

nature ad benevolence. Who was this strange man whose 
earthy humor carried a Christian message? 

William Ladd was one of the legendary race of Yankees in 
whom there mingled freely the shrewdness of a Down East 
peddler and the visionary zeal of a crank* He was born just 
before the Revolution, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the 
son of a well-to-do merchant. In 1797 he graduated from 
Harvard and then shipped aboard one of his father's merchant- 
men for a year* In 1806 he returned to the sea, this time as 
supercargo on the Negro sloop captained by the famous Paul 
Coffee,, in order to study the Negro character. Then, sick of 
the sea and dissatisfied with his aimless life, he retired to his 
father's farm in Minot, Maine, where he discovered for the 
first time "that Name which is above every name/* became 
converted and joined the church. Henceforth his life was 
given over to experiments in scientific farming and conducting 
evangelical forays among his neighbors* 

Ladd discovered the peace cause at the bedside of the 
Revemid Jesse Appleton, president of Bowdoin College and 
a founder of the Massachusetts Peace Society. Appleton gave 
him Noah Worcester's Solemn Rewe*w of the Custom of War 
to study; and a quick perusal of the tract convinced Ladd 
that finally, at the age of forty-one, he had found a way to 
be useful. In 1826 he was tramping all over New England 
lecturing wherever he could find a hall and collect an audi- 
ence. Like the rest of the reformers who were soon to claim 


Garrison's attention, he preached instant repentance and total 
dedication. "He who does not give his prayers, his influence, 
his talents, and, if necessary, his purse," he told his Newtrary- 
port listeners, "fails in his duty as a Christian and a man." 
Garrison was struck by this plain reasoning. Here in the 
person of a rustic reformer was a vital religious force that 
could change the world. Ladd's argument was simple and 
practical Americans were politically free why could they 
not become morally free? Cleanse America of evil by convert- 
ing the sinner to righteousness, the warmonger to a man of 
peace. Bring him to Christ, show him the error of his ways, 
give him salvation as a cure. What this homely Yankee pro- 
posed, Garrison suddenly realized, was a blueprint of the per- 
fect society. In Ladd's proposition lay the seeds of a great 
Christian movement. 

Enthusiastically he reported Ladd's speech in his paper. No 
one, he wrote, could doubt that the pacifist was destined to 
prove the foremost philanthropist of his age, a man of "noble 
efforts." 25 Thus began a friendship which despite prolonged 
and bitter disagreement lasted until Ladd's death in 1841. 
Ladd, like Whittier, was too sure of his cause and too amiably 
disposed toward mankind to harbor grudges. He remained to 
the last a man of peace who practiced what he preached. 

In September the Free frets collapsed tinder the weight of 
its editor's unpopular opinions, and Garrison found himself in 
financial straits. There was nothing left but to cut his losses 
by selling the paper and seek work as a journeyman, printer 
in Boston. He announced that "influenced by considerations 
important only to himself," the editor had decided to offer 
his entire establishment for quick sale. In a valedictory naore 
caustic than his usual tone he announced the sale of the paper 
to one John Harris. He admitted that the Free fnsf had 
startled many readers, offended others, "This is a tij 


age and he who attempts to walk uprightly and speak hon- 
estly, cannot rationally calculate upon speedy wealth or pre- 
ferment." 26 He confessed to no regrets and made no apologies. 
His conscience was clear. 

Failure could not dull the excitement of new ideas, Ncw- 
buryport hardly qualified as a sink of corruption, but his 
certainty of having been victimized by its cliques and cabals 
made his departure seem less of a retreat. Now that lie was 
setting out for Boston it simplified his mistakes to explain them 
as the work of a petty conspiracy against his good name. Such 
was his mood when he plunged into a last squabble, as if to 
show his fellow townsmen that nothing became his life in the 
town like leaving it. This time his victim was Caleb Gushing, 

Since leaving the Herald Gushing had divided his time be- 
tween literature and politics. His popularity with the manu- 
facturers of the Merrimack Valley led to his nomination for 
the Congressional seat for Essex County against the incumbent 
John Varnum of HaverhilL The campaign reached new 
heights of personal animosity: Gushing was accused of loose 
morals and Varnum was denounced for alleged shady dealings 
with the Junto. Garrison, apprised of Cushing's views on the 
tariff, remained loyal to the old Federalist principles and sup- 
ported Varnum against Cushing's "coalition of interests and 
family influence." 27 Yet when he announced the sale of the 
Free Press to Harris, who was a close friend of Cushing's, and 
Harris promptly came out for his friend, rumors circulated 
concerning a deal between young Garrison and the wily 
Gushing, As soon as Garrison learned of the rumors he rushed 
to the attack. First he fired off a letter to the Hawrhill Ga- 
zette, Varnum's sheet and the source of the story, denying the 
accusation and offering as proof of his fidelity to Federalism 
a six-month record unblemished by even a hint of Republican 
heresy. Then, still smarting at the injustice, he marched into 


a Gushing rally, strode to the platform, and delivered a tirade 
against his former friend accusing him of cowardice and the 
intent to deceive. Gushing lost the election by a wide margin, 
and neither man ever forgave the other. For his part Gushing 
grew convinced of his protege's dangerous fanaticism, while 
Garrison, once he became an abolitionist, denounced Gushing 
for every sin he could think of. 

In December, 1826, Garrison left for Boston, an unem- 
ployed journalist with six months' stormy experience. Not 
until after the Civil War did he enjoy his return visits to 
Newburyport. During the lean anti-slavery years ahead he 
explained his dislike of the town as a product of its conserva- 
tive opposition to his cause. A better reason perhaps was that 
it had witnessed his first failure. 


To THE YOUNG PROVINCIAL from Newburyport, Boston 
seemed vast and forbidding in the cold gray light 
of December, 1826. Hurrying through crooked streets to his 
boardinghouse in the North End, he remembered earlier visits 
to the city. Once on an errand to a printing house near the 
waterfront he had lost his way and wandered for hours 
through these same winding streets homesick and frightened, 
A second trip the previous summer had also ended unhappily 
when his twenty-mile hike in new shoes left him so crippled 
with blisters and aching feet that he rushed to catch the first 
stage home. Now he was back a third time, not the successful 
young journalist he fancied himself but a lowly journeyman 
printer seeking a second chance* 

Formidable as it may have appeared to him, Boston in 1826 
was a small city of some fifty thousand people which still 
wore its colonial heritage with pride. Mayor Josiah Quincy 
with the blessing of Boston's first families was just beginning 
to modernize the city, paving the streets, building a new city 
market, and providing police and fire protection. Lloyd Gar- 
rison caught the unmistakable air of paternalism blowing 
down from Beacon Hill, where merchant families preserved 
their conservative opinions as carefully as their fortunes. 

Wealthy Bostonians, he knew, were as fully aware of their 


duty to lead the civilization of the country as the High Street 
gentlemen of Newburyport By the middle of the third decade 
of the nineteenth century they had settled to the task and were 
enjoying what the good Dr. Bowditch called "the best days of 
the Republic." Secure in their beliefs, conservative Bostonians 
applauded the sentiments of Daniel Webster, discussed the 
sermons of William Ellery Channing, and kept a sharp eye on 
the earnings of A. & A. Lawrence & Company. In the "un- 
adorned good sense" of Unitarianism and the North American 
Review they found a metaphysic for their Whiggery. 

That wealth and position carried responsibilities towards 
their less fortunate townsmen, the leading families of Boston 
never doubted. Most of the city's social services were furn- 
ished by private charity* Many a Sunday afternoon Garrison 
strolled through the Common to the strains of a brass band 
hired by the Society for the Suppression of Vice in the vain 
hope of emptying the grogshops. Wives and daughters of 
leading citizens devoted leisure hours to such benevolent so- 
cieties as the Boston Fatherless and Widow's Society and the 
Penitent Female Refuge* By the time Lloyd Garrison arrived, 
charitable associations had become a habit with Boston's well- 
to-do: between 1810 and 1840 they averaged at least one new 
benevolent institution a year, most of them founded for the 
dual purpose of attending to the needy and repairing public 
morals. The logic of Boston paternalism posited social control 
as well as Christian charity, and the art of using their wealth 
wisely was one which these families had fully mastered. 

It was not to the Boston of Beacon Hill or to the fashion- 
able West End that Garrison went on his arrival, but to the 
Scott Street boardinghouse of his friend Thomas Bennett, 
himself a newcomer from the 'Port. Bennett's boardinghouse 
lay in the heart of another and different society of the middle 
classes. This was the Boston Emerson meant when he spoke 


of the city as a moving principle, "a living mind, agitating the 
mass and always afflicting the conservative class with some 
odious novelty or other." Middle-class Boston consisted of 
professional people, small merchants, artisans, and shopkeep- 
ers, many of them, like Garrison, recent arrivals from Essex 
North and the Old Colony. They brought with them a sea- 
board conservatism and social aspirations which they shared 
with the patricians, but they wore their conservatism with a 
difference. In the first place, they disliked the proprietary 
manner of the old families and resented their institutionalized 
snobbery. Coming from country strongholds of orthodoxy, 
they mistrusted the "icy system" of Unitarianism with its cool 
lucidities that replaced the majesty of God with the tricks of 
human reason. The benevolence of the Boston merchants 
stemmed from a recognition of their declining political power, 
while the religious impulse of middle-class Boston sprang from 
the rocky soil of Christian zeal 

Garrison's orthodox friends in his adopted city assumed 
that only Christianity could save the nation from infidelity 
and licentiousness. They viewed the renovation of American 
morals as a crusade which could never be won by local con- 
tingents of philanthropists dispensing charity and advice but 
demanded a revolutionary army organized into missionary, 
tract, and Bible societies captained by the great religious lead- 
ers of the day. One of these leaders was their own Lyman 
Beecher, recently made pastor of the Hanover Street Church* 
If the spiritual center of Unitarian Boston was Channing's 
Federal Street congregation, evangelical Boston made its 
headquarters in the home of Lyman Beecher in the North 
End next to the old burying ground on Copp's HiU, whither 
he was known frequently to retire to pray for those whose 
feet stumbled on the dark mountain. Hanover Street Church 
became Garrison's spiritual home and Beecher Ms mentor. 


Beecher had also come to Boston in 1826 In response to a 
challenge. As an organizer and what another age would call 
a public-relations expert he had few peers. Earlier he had 
organized the Connecticut Society for the Reformation of 
Morals to protect the Standing Order against "Sabbath-break- 
ers, rum-sellers, tippling folk, infidels, and ruff-scuff" who 
made up the ranks of democracy. He wrote tracts, held re- 
vivals, established a magazine, lectured on temperance, lobbied 
for Sunday blue laws, and fought manfully to preserve the 
establishment at every turn. When he finally lost the battle 
against disestablishment in Connecticut in 1817, he admitted 
that "it was as dark a day as ever I saw/' 1 Presently, however, 
he saw the light: far from destroying Christian order, dis- 
establishment had actually strengthened it by cutting the 
churches loose from state support. With missions, revivals, 
and voluntary associations Christians could exert a far stronger 
influence than ever they could with shoe buckles, cocked hats, 
and gold-headed canes. To prove his point Beecher threw 
himself into the work of Christian reform, fashioning Bible 
and tract societies, supporting home missions, the temperance 
cause and all the other benevolent associations which sprang 
up in the East after 1812. Under his aegis these vast inter- 
denominational societies formed a benevolent empire run by 
an interlocking directorate of lay and clerical figures whose 
avowed aim was the engineering of mass American consent to 
Christian leadership. 

As the democratization of American church polity pro- 
ceeded apace, the need for a major theological reorientarion 
grew urgent. This need Beecher and his old Yale classmate, 
Nathaniel Taylor, attempted to meet with a doctrine of their 
own. "Beechemm," or "Taylorism" as it was more com- 
monly called, took for its central theme the primacy of 
reason over the letter of revelation. Men are punished for 


their sins, Beecher and Taylor argued, only because they 
freely and willingly choose to sin. Without free agency there 
could be no sinful act; men are truly free agents. Saving grace 
lies within the reach of any man who will but try to come to 
Christ. Sin is selfishness, and regeneration simply the act of 
will which consists of the preference of God to every other 
object, that act being the effect of the Holy Spirit operating 
on the mind. "Whosoever will may come" this was the real 
import of their new doctrine which furnished the rationale 
for the revivals and the benevolent crusade of the Second 
Great Awakening. In Beecher's new formula piety and ethics, 
severed in the First Great Awakening, were reunited in a 
democratic evangelical puritanism, 

Beecher's connection with this theology was not always 
clear or consistent. Taylor was a speculative thinker and a 
reformer; Beecher was neither. Deep down in his soul he was 
a trimmer, and he refused to jeopardize his plans for a great 
American church by getting embroiled in doctrinal dispute* 
In 1826, however, when Garrison first heard him preach, he 
stood foursquare behind the new theology for which he 
claimed partial credit. More important, he brought to Boston 
an experience in organizing religious enterprises which few 
of his colleagues could match* Once established in Hanover 
Street, he inaugurated a series of revivals, using a new "soft 
persuasion" adapted to city congregations. It was not long 
before he noticed that the evangelical people of Boston lacked 
political influence. Quickly he organized the Hanover Associ- 
ation of Young Men and sent its members into the city pri- 
maries with instructions to outvote the "smoking loafers," re- 
move the liquor booths from the Common, and stop the 
Sunday steamboat excursions to Nahant, This they promptly 
did, and soon Beecher was a commanding figure in Boston 


To Garrison, who went regularly to hear him preach, there 
seemed something majestic in this stocky figure with his un- 
tidy robes flying behind him as he strode to the pulpit to do 
battle for the Lord, Beecher was a dynamo. Both the muscu- 
larity of his sermons and his devotion to the strenuous life 
revealed a man of prodigious energy, impatient of all restraint 
and aching to get on with the business of Christianizing the 
country. His conversation abounded in military figures 
plans of battle, shot and shell, victorious charges, and routing 
the enemy. Beecher had the kind of Christian belligerence 
which young Garrison understood. "As a divine," he noted 
enthusiastically, "Lyman Beecher has no equal." What was 
it that gave Beecher his strength? "Truth TRUTH de- 
livered in a childlike simplicity and affection." 2 Sitting in the 
back pews of Hanover Street Church, Garrison did not realize 
yet the full import of Beecher's message or the lengths to 
which it would carry him. He only knew that Beecher offered 
revealed religion as a guide; but for a young man intent on 
directing the lives of other people that was enough. 

More than a month went by before he found work. The 
next year he spent migrating from one printing job to an- 
other before joining the Massachusetts Weekly Journal, a 
new Whig paper edited by David Lee Child. In his leisure he 
surveyed his adopted city, strolling through Beacon Hill, ex- 
ploring the wharves, and standing with the crowd on the 
Common to watch the militia march on training days* He 
went to hear Beecher's archenemies, Channing and John Pier- 
pont, the flinty pastor of the Hollis Street Unitarian Church 
and grandfather of J, Pierpont Morgan, Much as he disap- 
proved of the "icy system," he was impressed with Channing's 
low-keyed sermons, and from Pierpont he learned that works 
were more important than doctrine. Slowly Boston cosmo- 


politanism began to tell, and a new note of sophistication ap- 
peared in the verses he scribbled off for his own amusement* 

I think if our first parents had been driven 
From Paradise to Boston, their deep woe 

Had lost its keenness no place under heaven 
For worth of loveliness, had pleased them so; 

Particularly if they had resided 

In that fine house for David Sears provided. 3 

His hunger for recognition was partially assuaged by an 
incident in the summer of 1817. When Daniel Webster moved 
up to the Senate, he left a vacancy in the House of Repre- 
sentatives. A party caucus duly assembled in July and was 
presented with the candidate of the Central Committee, 
Benjamin Gorham. Gotham's nomination was just about to 
be put to a vote when out of the audience and onto the plat- 
form strode Garrison, primed with a lengthy speech in sup- 
port of his perennial favorite, Harrison Gray Otis. The Cen- 
tral Committee had already rejected Otis because of his 
antiquated views on the tariff, but when Garrison launched 
his panegyric, it was clear that the action of the committee 
had been premature. An acid reminder from the chairman 
that he was out of order failed to dampen the enthusiasm of 
the fledgling orator, who was beginning to enjoy himself. 
Unfortunately, halfway through his oration his memory 
failed him and he had to take recourse to a copy of the 
speech tucked in his hat. Still, when he finished and returned 
to his seat, he found that he had upset the carefully laid plans 
of the steering committee, who decided to consult Otis once 
more. He left the meeting in triumph. A few days later one 
of the Federalist gentlemen who had attended the caucus 
wrote a letter to the Courier demanding to know the name 


of the young upstart who had disrupted the proceedings. 
In his reply Garrison sympathized with his critic for the 
trouble he had experienced in learning his name. "Let me as- 
sure him, however, that if my life be spared, my name shall 
one day be known to the world, at least to such an extent 
that common inquiry shall be unnecessary. This, I know, 
will be deemed excessive vanity but time shall prove it 
prophetic." 4 

The editorial opportunity he sought came in the person of 
the Reverend William Collier, who ran a boardinghouse on 
Milk Street. Collier was a Baptist city missionary and the 
editor of a struggling temperance newspaper, the National 
Philanthropist, His boardinghouse served as a haven for mis- 
sionaries, visiting clergymen, itinerant evangelists and Chris- 
tian reformers of all kinds; his paper exposed the evils of 
drink and denounced gambling, prostitution, dueling, and 
theatergoing, and extolled the virtues of Bible societies, home 
missions, and Sabbath observance. In its pages each week 
could be found the evangelical prescription for a better world. 

At Collier's Garrison met the printer of the National 
Philanthropist, Nathaniel White, who hired him as a type- 
setter sometime late in 1827. When Collier, discouraged by 
the anemic circulation of his paper, decided to sell out to his 
printer, White made Garrison his new editor. On January 
4, 1828, the National Philanthropist appeared for the first 
time under new editorial direction, although Garrison's name 
did not appear on the masthead until March, 

Once again he set out to refashion a newspaper according 
to his notions of popular journalism. He increased the number 
of columns, enlarged the format, and cleaned up the typog- 
raphy. Collier's motto, Moderate Drinking is the Downhill 
Road to Drunkenness, he decided to keep, but for Collier's 
sermons he substituted stinging editorials. His experiences 


with the Free Press had taught him the need for a platform. 
In an editorial entitled "Moral Character of Public Men" he 
expounded his new philosophy of reform. "Moral principles 
should be inseparably connected with political; and the 
splendid talents of the dissolute must not be preferred to the 
competent, though inferior, abilities of the virtuous of our 
land." Americans, he continued, had never understood the 
need for a moral influence sufficient to control party in- 
temperance and enhance the value of public opinion. It there- 
fore behooved Christians especially to guard against "the 
common partialities and obliquities of political strife*" Political 
parties should henceforth be subject to Christian control No 
longer would the duelist, the gambler, the debauchcr, or the 
"profane swearer" be elected simply because he was a Federal- 
ist or a Republican. Political morality must be raised to the 
level of Christian behavior. "It is due to our principles, our 
civil, social and moral institutions, that men whose characters 
are notoriously bad should be deprived of the control of our 
political destinies/' 5 

There was nothing new in Garrison's plea for religious in- 
fluence in politics; it had been the stock-in-trade of evangeli- 
cals and their benevolent societies for fifteen years* Behind its 
seemingly nonpartisan appeal lay the conservative opinions 
of clericals who sought to defend the established order from 
onrushing democracy* One of the most striking of the many 
ironies that studded Garrison's career was the fact that his 
anti-slavery radicalism evolved out of a literal interpretation 
of these principles of Christian conservatism. 

The professed aim of the benevolent societies which sprang 
up after 1812 in response to the challenge of democracy was 
the extension of the Christian faith and the reformation of 
public morals. The American Bible Society, the Sunday 
School Union, the American Tract Society, home and foreign 


missionary societies all shared the common goal of educating 
the citizen for participation in a Christian America- The 
publications of the Bible Society urged its members to scruti- 
nize voting lists and elect only Christian candidates* The 
Society for the Preservation of the Sabbath discredited any 
office-seeker who failed to keep the Sabbath. The Temperance 
Society withheld its support from any politician known to 
imbibe. And so it went. Denied entrance to the halls of state 
through the main portals, the ministers availed themselves of 
the back door. If they could not make the laws themselves, 
they could see to it that the laws recognized their influence. 
By the time Garrison joined them, the benevolent societies 
were busy as never before operating a gigantic political lobby, 
publicity bureau, and propaganda machine in the interests of 
the new puritanism. 

When it came to defining the Christian statesman the 
evangelical formula grew blurred. It was all well and good to 
insist on honesty, trust, duty, and uprightness, but what did 
these words really mean? Granted that the unregenerate 
politician could be identified by his sins tippling, gambling, 
and general licentious behavior, but the positive content of 
the ideal of Christian statesmanship remained unexplored, The 
evangelical argument ran like this: A "professing Christian" 
is one who is regenerate (L e., has received saving grace) and 
is thus free from selfishness, hypocrisy, and dishonesty. Once 
in office he is bound to make the right decisions. His views 
on the tariff, land grants, or the Bank hardly matter since he 
can always be trusted to reach a Christian solution* On the 
theory that it takes a Christian to recognize and elect a fellow 
communicant, the evangelicals argued that social reform 
really begins with the moral reform of individuals. Not until 
everyone is purified can the problem of Christian govern- 
ment be solved. Poverty, slavery, capital punishment, im~ 


prisonment for debt, extension of the franchise, all the major 
social problems await the regeneration of the individual Once 
the saints are legion they will make their righteousness felt, 
and their moral oninicompetencc will ensure a reign of peace 
and justice. 

Thus the problems of social and political reform were re- 
duced in the evangelical equation to elements of personal 
morality. By reforming the individual and bringing him to 
Christ the preachers would mysteriously change his heart 
and thereby qualify him for leadership. Piecemeal reforms, 
especially those favored by political parties and disaffected 
minorities, they dismissed as pernicious half-measures based on 
compromise rather than the rock of universal love. 

Such in all its essentials was the doctrine of moral reform 
as Garrison understood and accepted it, an equation of duties 
and rewards. "If we have hitherto lived without reference 
to another state of existence," he wrote in one of his new 
editorials, "let us do so no longer," The fruits of earth are 
bitter. Christians must lay up treasures in heaven "where 
change and decay have never entered, and the ardent aspira- 
tions of the soul are satisfied in the fulness of God." The balm 
of Gilead alone can restore peace to the troubled, health 
to the wounded, and happiness to the suffering; "its applica- 
tion will make men the heirs of joyous immortality; and thanks 
to the Great Physician of souls, this sovereign balm can be ob- 
tained without money and without price*" 6 Faith without 
works, however, was not enough. The very certainty of 
Christian truth dictated the need for an immediate reform of 
the evils of the world. 

If I were an atheist and expected to perish like the ox or a deist, 
and rejected God's glorious and exalted revelation or if I dis- 
believed the doctrine of rewards and punishments in a future 


life or professed to receive all my happiness on earth neither 
my interest nor my pleasure would lead me to squander away 
existence upon the unproductive things of the world. I could not 
be so selfish (with my present feelings) as to remain an idler here, 
or a passive spectator of the contest between right and wrong 
virtue and vice truth and error which must continue to the 
end of time. . . . While there remains a tyrant to sway the iron 
rod of power, or chain about the body or mind to be broken, I 
cannot surrender my arms. While drunkenness and intemperance 
abound, I will try to reclaim the dissolute, and to annihilate the 
progress of vice. While profanity and sabbath-breaking, and 
crime wound my ear and affect my sight, I will reprove, admonish 
and condemn. While the demon of war is urging mankind to 
deeds of violence and revenge, I will 'study the things that make 
for peace.' While a soul remains unenlightened, uneducated, and 
without *the glorious gospel of the blessed God,' my duty is 
plain I will contribute my little influence to the diffusion of 
universal knowledge. 7 

From now on, he promised, his methods would be those of 
Christian example and enterprise. "The gospel of Christ 
breathes peace to men," he explained, "its language is full of 
the mildness of God. . . . This gospel is not to be propagated 
by fire and sword, nor nourished by blood and slaughter. It 
must go forth nmder the banner of the cross." 8 Beneath that 
banner in the years to come he would collect a band of 
militant Christian rebels who cared less for the mildness of 
God than for their freedom of conscience. 

If it was true that politics and morals were indistinguishable, 
how could the religious reformer avoid the pitfalls of party 
politics? It was one thing to point out, as he did, the "inutility, 
the folly, the slothfulness and bane of party spirit." Still, the 
notion that opinions and habits could be changed without 
votes and laws, he admitted, was both "visionary" and "highly 


dangerous." Private example might influence a household, 
but only public effort could convert a nation, "Hence it has 
seemed to me," he wrote, "that the readiest way to operate on 
the mass of society is to begin with the opulent." The manners 
of fashionable people soon become law to an otherwise "law- 
less multitude" "its enactments go into immediate opera- 
tion; it is a stream, winding through the innumerable chan- 
nels of community, transparent, gentle, fructifying or turbid 
with pollution, and pernicious in its circulation." Thus he saw 
in the General Union for Promoting the Observance of the 
Christian Sabbath, supported by wealthy businessmen, "the 
most efficient instrument in the cause of religion and public 
morality ever put into practice in any age and country,*'* 
To the Jacksonian critics who complained that such groups 
were cancerous growths on the body politic he replied with 
the warning that "unless societies are formed to operate upon 
public sentiment, to sound the trumpet of alarm over a 
slumbering land, to give adaptation and strength to the hands 
of the people, the tide of desolation will continue to swell 
till neither ark nor mountain will be able to save us from 
destraaion." 10 

At this point Garrison was fairly caught in the evangelical 
contradiction, for if the urgency of the American political 
situation was clear, so was the necessity of choosing sides. 
He could not avoid political choice any more than the evan- 
gelicals could mask their Whiggish prejudices. He took care 
to remind his readers that he was not permitted to indulge in 
political dispute, that "it does not become us to advocate 
particular candidates for office*" All he could do was to urge 
them to seek out "Christian and moral men" worthy of their 
confidence. Yet when Daniel Webster was criticized by the 
Boston merchants for his about-face on the tariff question, 
Garrison rushed to the defense of that "star in the galaxy of 


American worthies." 11 As to the tariff, he admitted to 
strongly favoring protection, which would help supply the 
domestic market "with cheaper goods than England can. 
possibly do," 12 

The National Philanthropist was strictly prohibitionist. To 
dramatize the dangers of alcohol Garrison resorted to every 
sensational trick he knew lurid tales of spontaneous com- 
bustion, stories of starving families victimized by the drunk- 
ard's curse, and reams of homiletic verse. 

What is the cause of every ill? 
That does with pain the body fill? 
It is the oft repeated gill 
Of Whiskey 

What makes chill penury prevail, 
Makes widows moan and orphans wail, 
And fills the poor house and the jail? 
Tis Whiskey. 1 * 

Patiently he distinguished for readers the absolute evil 
of alcohol from lesser sins like gluttony. "If my companion 
swallow a turkey or masticate a small pig, or demolish a sirloin 
of beef, he does not whet my appetite nor induce me to follow 
his example." 14 

To expand the circulation of the National Philanthropist 
he wagered that all tipplers who subscribed to it would save at 
least the cost of the paper in six months' time. He also en- 
listed the support of women and expressed surprise that 
"assimilated as is domestic enjoyment with a temperate house- 
hold," appeals to the weaker sex were so few. With all due al- 
lowance for their retired habits, it was essential to capitalize on 
the "immense influence which the females of our country are 


capable of exerting over our habits and manners as a people." 10 
Thus began his lifelong liaison with "female influence," the 
evangelical practice which Hawthorne and then James de- 
plored as the cause of an insidious feminizing of the American 
character. Eventually the Zenobias, the Olive Chancellors and 
Miss Birdscyes became the mainstays of Garrisonian reform. 

Garrison relished the role of public censor. His paper 
advertised projects like the Penitent Female Refuge to "bring 
back the abandoned from the path of lewdness and moral 
death" and the Society for the Promotion of Morality and 
Piety in Boston, As a self-appointed guardian of American 
morals, he set out to purify the national literary taste. First 
to fall beneath his censorious eye were the "vile outpourings" 
of Tom Moore, those "unholy emanations of Icwdncss and 
intemperance." He recommended as a corrective to the Irish 
Anacreon the "comprehensive and masterly" sermons on 
intemperance of Lyman Beecher. 16 

His campaign for purity involved him in a skirmish with 
Boston culture with the "indelicate*' offerings of Mrs. 
Knight at the Federal Street Theater and the "bill of licen- 
tiousness" offered by an Italian dance troupe at the Tremont. 
Even the Immortal Bard, whose plays caused every virtuous 
man to "veil his face/ 7 failed to meet his exacting standards 
of decency. Lotteries, Sunday mails, and Sabbath-breaking 
loomed large as sins of huge dimensions. The sight of "profli- 
gate coxcombs and dissipated dandies" enjoying a Sunday 
stroll sent him straight to his desk to demand rigid enforce- 
ment of blue laws* Behind the lumbering Sunday mail coaches 
he saw "skepticism and depravity" stalking abroad. In dark 
moments like these he wondered why Christians wasted their 
lives in fruitless doctrinal quarrels "while infidelity* is seeking 
to subvert the purity of our institutions and the permanency 
of our liberties." 17 


He did not really believe all of his predictions of impend- 
ing doom. Though he scarcely realized it, his belief in moral 
progress harmonized completely with the confident outlook 
of the Jacksonian age. In 1828 Senator Richard M. Johnson, 
spokesman for the New West and archenemy of the New 
England clergy, delivered an oration on the Senate floor 
in which he prophesied unlimited progress as the American 
destiny. Reading Johnson's speech, Garrison was moved to add 
an editorial comment of his own. He examined and rejected 
the romantic notion of the mortality of civilizations. "The 
idea has obtained in all ages that there must be a constant 
succession of empires, like waves of the ocean, and that the 
oblivious hand of time must blot out with the lapse of 
centuries. Nothing can be more erroneous." 18 America's 
future, he concluded, was unlimited, with population expand- 
ing, a government based on equality of rights, humanity 
and justice blended with religious principle. Why should 
the Republic crumble or dissolve? 

Garrison's hymn to progress formed part of the liturgy 
of evangelicalism. For all their jeremiads and professional pes- 
simism the American evangelicals were the unwitting carriers 
of the Revolutionary heritage. Their faith in the efficacy 
of voluntary associations revealed a deep commitment to the 
doctrine of progress. They believed that they could convert 
a wicked nation to goodness simply by organizing and direct- 
ing pubHc opinion, that is, by the judicious use of Christian 
pressure groups. But who could say where this process might 
end? In stressing the importance of public opinion they gave 
their own meaning to the ideal of democratic association, 
but their vision of progress and their ideal of the free indi- 
vidual were fundamentally similar to the perfectionist image 
of the Jeffersonians. True, they cried down natural reason 
and the Enlightenment world view. Nevertheless, their ac- 


ceptance of the principle of free association and their cer- 
tainty of the power of revealed truth to win in the open mar- 
ket sustained and carried forward the optimism of the 
Revolutionary generation. In perfecting their scheme for a 

stable society strong in religious habit and united in the 
Protestant faith they discovered the very democratic tech- 
niques which were soon to be turned against them. The whole 
benevolent apparatus open societies, public meetings, free 
literature, propaganda which they used to impose a con- 
servative Christian pattern on American society might as 
easily be appropriated by another group of reformers with 
a more explosive cause. Tracts, newspapers and placards, so 
effective in fighting Sabbath-breaking and the Sunday mails, 
could also be used to free the slaves. In the principle of 
voluntary association they had found an effective method for 
agitating causes which could divide as well as unify the 
country. Had they but known it, the evangelicals had fash- 
ioned an engine of national self-destruction. All that logic 
required was a man who practiced the Christian zeal they 

Gradually Garrison began to distinguish between com- 
plaints of irreligious behavior and major social evils* He con- 
tinued to lash out at profane language and licentiousness, at 
habits like "the present rage of sporting huge mustaches,'* 
but he was slowly discovering that there were certain ques- 
tions to which the evangelicals had no easy answers* One of 
these was William Ladd's peace question and the problem 
of defensive war. Indifference to principle nettled him. If war 
was morally wrong, how could defensive war be right? If 
slavery was un-Chri$tian why did Christians practice it? 
What could be more reasonable than the attempt to live by the 
all-sufficient word of God? The more he pondered the gospel 
of Christ the closer he was drawn to its simple message 


"Go ye and do likewise." The theological implications of 
Christian perfectionism were not yet clear to him. Just how 
truth could be gleaned from the chaff of Biblical contradic- 
tions he did not as yet know. He was satisfied to consult 
his conscience and then act. 

In this mood of self-examination he approached the prob- 
lem of American apathy. What but "indifference" explained 
the reluctance of Christians to undertake the work of reform? 
"There are, in faith, few reasoning Christians," he wrote; 
"the majority of them are swayed more by the usages of 
the world than by any definite perception of what constitutes 
duty." 19 Was there not enough Christian influence in the 
country to reform it? 

By the "duty of reasoning Christians" he did not mean 
simply the common-sense adaptations of religious precepts to 
daily Hf e, but a purer and more personal belief in the superior- 
ity of the righteous man. Slavery and war, vices "incorporated 
into the existence of society," could only be corrected by re- 
fashioning America according to the word of God. The er- 
rors of the evangelicals, he saw, lay not in their ideals but in 
their failure to live up to them. It was a question of funda- 
mentalsspiritual principles were levers for moving the 
world, social action a form of personal atonement. Slowly he 
was learning that evangelical passion logically ends in radical- 
ism; further, that perfectionism and radicalism are similar 
states of mind. In the consistency with which he pursued his 
discovery lay the profound unity of his life. 

The radical in American politics, like his counterpart the 
true evangelical, stands outside the community, his isolation 
defined by his ideals. To his less excitable fellows he is 
something of an anomaly, admirable perhaps, but irritating. 
Since his actions are dictated by conscience alone they are 
usually predictable. He combines steadfastness of purpose with 


an almost reckless disregard of self-interest. He will not 
compromise his beliefs and prefers to suffer, indeed to court, 
martyrdom rather than give in to the majority. His dis- 
trusts politics and relies instead on a direct appeal to the 
moral sense of other people. He views society as a collection 
of individuals to be rededicated by his teachings as a pool 
of water whose placid surface is broken by single pebbles 
tossed upon it, each one radiating concentric circles of right 
conduct. Because he rests his case on emotion rather than 
reason, the radical is wary of subtleties which he calls hair- 
splitting. Something of an anti-intellectual, he mistrusts the 
doctrinaire yet is often guilty of ex cathedra pronouncements 
himself. Consistency is not his forte: in his search for a better 
vantagepoint from which to analyze the evils of society he 
frequently and often abruptly shifts his ground. His motives 
are mixed and not always harmonious. He often wavers be- 
tween the compulsion to be right and the urge to make others 
right. This tension between the demands of self and the claims 
of other people is both a weakness and a strength a weak- 
ness because it often blinds him to the realities of political 
change; a strength because it makes conscience the touch- 
stone of all behavior. This outline of the American radical 
temperament is also the profile of Garrison's personality, 

One of the myths that attach themselves to the American 
radical is that of rugged independence* The image of the lone 
figure struggling against overwhelming odds is a naturally 
appealing one to an age that enjoys chiefly the nostalgia of 
the history of American radicalism. Garrison was the willing 
perpetrator of just such a myth. He liked to tell how, unaided 
and alone, he found his way to abolition and formed the 
crusade that eventually freed the Negro. This legend, care- 
fully matured by his followers, ensured his fame but obscured 
the debts he owed to others. Beecher and Boston supplied 



him with most of the causes and techniques he used in the 
anti-slavery cause. Long after he denounced Beecher and the 
evangelicals he remained obligated to them for the convic- 
tions which led him to racial equality. He came to Boston a 
brash young man without a cause; he left eighteen months 
later sure that he had found one. The year 1828 was his 
anmis mimbiUs for which the evangelicals had prepared him. 
In March of that year Benjamin Lundy arrived in Boston. 

Benjamin Lundy 

ON THE EVENING of March 1 7, 1 82 8, Benjamin Lundy 
gathered a group of Boston ministers in William Col- 
lier's boardinghouse to discuss the means of forming a local 
anti-slavery society. The meeting was hardly a success. Of 
the handful of clergymen assembled only Samuel Joseph May, 
the young pastor of the Unitarian Church in Cambridgeport, 
evinced the slightest interest in Lundy's project. The rest, 
while stoutly maintaining their dislike of slavery, opposed 
anything so rash as a society to abolish it. If he hoped to 
change their minds, Lundy might as well have been talking 
to the cobblestones in Milk Street. 

As he lectured the group Lundy noticed a young man 
with a balding head and steel-rimmed glasses who sat on the 
edge of his chair, eyes fixed intently on Lundy, following 
every word and nodding his head vigorously in agreement. 
After the meeting Lundy spoke to his admirer, whose name 
he understood to be Garrison, the twenty-two-year-old editor 
of Collier's paper. Garrison told him of his high regard for 
Lundy's own newspaper, the Genius of Unwerwl Bmancipa** 
tion, and showed him an editorial he had written denouncing 
slaveholders for trying to "seal up the mind and debase the 
intellect of a man to brutal incapacity/' a ()ur boasted 
liberty/' he had written, "is a paradox. We have warmed in 


our bosom a serpent, the poison of whose sting is felt through 
every vein of the republic; we have been industriously creat- 
ing mines of irremediable destruction, gathering materials for 
a national catastrophe." 1 Reading this bombast, Lundy may 
have noticed Garrison's confession that he lacked information 
"by which to form an accurate statement of what has been 
done and the means now in operation to redeem the oppressed 
and degraded sons of Africa in our land." When he finished 
chatting with Garrison, Lundy realized that he had only to 
supply this information to make a convert. Little did he know 
that his facts were the keys to Pandora's box and that he was 
about to release a scourge of God. 

Benjamin Lundy was born a Quaker in Sandwich, New 
Jersey, in 1789. His great-grandfather had been one of the 
original settlers of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and a founder 
of the Society of Friends there. As a Quaker, Lundy in- 
herited a long tradition of uncompromising resistance to 
slavery, a tradition that emphasized the moral wrong of 
slaveholding and reduced the problem to the dimensions of 
individual conscience. The opinions of the Quakers were not 
always moderate and inoffensive. Their belief in the im- 
mediacy of the Holy Spirit and their trust in the informed 
conscience freed them from institutional prejudices and the 
need to compromise, Lundy's forebears bequeathed to him 
a concern with personal worthiness and soul-searching, an 
unyielding hostility to slavery, the militant views and blunt 
language of Christian zealots. He found this same spirit reborn 
in his young friend, 

Lundy was a slight, stoop-shouldered, brittle man with 
thinning reddish hair quiet, unassuming, and absolutely 
fearless* His initiation into the anti-slavery movement came 
on a trip to Wheeling, West Virginia, which was a regular 
stop for the slave coffles headed from the Tidewater over the 


mountains into the Old Southwest. As he watched the pro- 
cession of manacled slaves driven through the dusty streets, 
he was filled with revulsion and the iron entered his soul. 
In Ohio, where he settled after the war of 1812, he formed 
the Union Humane Society, an abolitionist organization that 
numbered five hundred members at the end of its first year. 
During the Missouri crisis he went to St. Louis and witnessed 
the defeat of the free-state forces there before returning to 
Ohio penniless and discouraged. There were two Quaker 
anti-slavery newspapers in the Mississippi Valley at this 
time the Philanthropist^ edited by Charles Osborne, and the 
E?mncipator y published by Elihu Embree. When Embree 
died suddenly and Osborne's sheet was sold to a printer who 
did not measure up to Lundy's anti-slavery standards, he 
decided to print a paper of his own. Accordingly, he moved 
to Mt Pleasant, Ohio, where he brought out the first number 
of the Genius of Universal Emancipation in January, 1821. 
When he first met Garrison, he was stili printing his paper 
between trips to the West Indies and lecture tours in New 

Lundy drove himself mercilessly. He usually carried his 
type with him on his travels, stopping to print an issue of his 
paper whenever he found the time and the money. His travels 
took him into Quaker meetings on Nantucket and in the hill 
towns of North Carolina, the drawing rooms of wealthy 
Philadelphia Friends and the shacks of free Negroes in 
Baltimore. A pioneer in the field of anti-slavery lecturing, 
he was not, as Garrison soon realized, an effective orator. His 
weak voice and halting delivery made him much more effec- 
tive in small gatherings than in the lecture hall Yet he was 
accustomed to mobs and brickbats. Six months before he 
met Garrison he was accosted in a Baltimore street by an 
irate slave-trader named Austin Woolfolk who had been the 


target of one of his more caustic editorials. Woolfolk chal- 
lenged him, knocked him flat, and then, discovering that he 
had no intention of defending himself, proceeded to adminis- 
ter a brutal beating. Lundy picked himself up and marched 
to the nearest police station to swear out a writ against his 
assailant. After a seemingly endless delay he had the satisfac- 
tion of receiving damages to the amount of one dollar. 

Until he met Lundy, Garrison had felt no immediate con- 
cern for the slave. To be sure, slavery was a national wrong 
which would someday have to be corrected. He had discussed 
the slave insurrections in South Carolina with Caleb Gushing 
and followed the progress of the Missouri debates with in- 
terest. His religious upbringing and his mother's possessive 
grip had taught him to hate the idea of holding property in 
human beings. No doubt he sincerely believed slavery the 
"curse" he named it in the pages of his papers. Its effects, 
however, were little felt in New England where it had been 
abandoned fifty years before. Lundy may have argued that 
the people of the free states carried the blood of the slave 
"on every finger," but most New Englanders thought other- 
wise. Except for the childhood interlude in Baltimore, Garri- 
son had seen nothing of slavery and knew little of its extent 
and political power. His meeting with Lundy was thus a 
turning point in his life, for it was Lundy's facts and figures 
which persuaded him that here was a cause more important 
than temperance and Sabbath observance. 

He promptly reported Lundy's meeting at Collier's as a 
clarion call for "a strong and extensive interest in the cause 
of emancipating the slaves in our country." 2 Lundy's spell 
still held him, for he announced that the clergymen had given 
"their entire approbation" to his ideas. He praised Lundy 
and described the Genius of Universal Efinncipauon as "the 
bravest and best attempt in the history of newspaper publica- 


tions." He cited Lundy's figures on the number of anti- 
slavery societies as proof of the great advance of Southern 

humanitarian sentiment. Even the American Colonization 
Society came in for its share of the plaudits along with 
Lundy's Haitian colonization scheme. He noted that over 
one thousand free Negroes had already been sent back to 
Africa while over seven thousand were now established in 
Haiti. "This number may appear insignificant, when con- 
trasted with the rapid increase of slaves in the southern 
States, during the same period; but this very multiplication 
magnifies the extent of the relief which has been given; for if 
these immigrants had remained, how long would it have taken 
to redouble their number?" Soon he would draw from the 
same set of figures an entirely different conclusion as to the 
worth of the Colonization Society- Now he saw only the 
rapid progress of Christian spirit; the prejudices of the South 
were gradually yielding to the dictates of humanity and 
justice; anti-slavery societies were being formed; and public 
opinion against slavery was gathering a force which in time 
would become irresistible. 

Had Garrison bothered to examine Southern opinion care- 
fully he would have discerned a far different temper. Under 
the pressure of declining prices and a revived Northern 
humanitarianism the South was abandoning the Jeffersonian 
ideal of a free society for a defense of slavery as a positive 
good. The "positive good" defense of slavery preceded 
Garrison's entrance into the anti-slavery movement by nearly 
a decade. At a time when he first began to think about slavery, 
Southern intellectuals had already discovered a divine sanction 
for their way of life* In the years to come many of them 
protested that their defense was a reaction against the ir- 
responsible attacks of Garrison and his fellow fanatics, but 
the truth was that their rationale of slavery had been com- 


pleted long before the first number of the Liberator appeared. 

With the arrival of the Missouri question in Congress, 
Southern liberalism entered upon a period of decline. The 
assertion of federal power to regulate slavery in the ter- 
ritories, no matter how dangerous a usurpation of the powers 
of the states, was a debatable issue which Southern statesmen 
felt competent to discuss. When Northern restrictionists 
injected the question of "higher law," however, the debates 
rose to the rarefied plane of moral philosophy where the de- 
fenders of slavery felt distinctly uncomfortable. The natural 
law argument, as expounded on the Senate floor by Rufus 
King of New York, was deceptively simple. If it was wrong 
for individuals to hold property in other men, King reasoned, 
it was wrong for groups of men to own slaves; and all com- 
pacts or laws imposing slavery were void because they vio- 
lated the law of nature which is the law of God and para- 
mount to all human control 8 

There were several ways of dealing with the natural law 
argument, the most extreme of which was to reject it out of 
hand. This course John Randolph took when he pronounced 
the Declaration of Independence, the restrictionists' chief 
authority, "a fanfaronade of metaphysical abstractions." Wil- 
liam Pinkney of Maryland submitted a modified version of 
Randolph's indictment by declaring that Jefferson's "self- 
evident truths" were, properly construed, neither self-evident 
nor truths. As a counterweight to the hazy abstractions of the 
Declaration he offered the seemingly more substantial pre- 
scriptive rights of Edmund Burke. 

King and his Northern contingent were most vulnerable to 
Southern shafts when they identified natural law with the 
law of God, The Southerners knew their Bible quite as well 
as the New Englanders, and the Old Testament provided them 
with all the ammunition they needed. They put their case in 


the form of a syllogism: Whatever God sanctioned for the 
Hebrews He intended for all times; God gave the Hebrews 
the institution of slavery; therefore slavery bore the stamp 
of divine approval It followed that slavery was "natural" in 
the only intelligible sense of the word; that is, it was a natural 
possession of all civilizations and a natural part of God's plan. 
In the measured terms of Burke's reinterpretation of natural 
law Southern congressmen announced their desertion of the 
Enlightenment camp for the fortress of romantic con- 

Garrison, in imputing to the South an enlightened con- 
science, could not have been more wrong* If he had troubled 
to study the Missouri debates, that "title page to a great tragic 
volume," as John Quincy Adams called them, he might have 
read a speech by Senator William Smith of South Carolina 
which would have changed his mind* In the course of his 
long and turgid oration Smith invoked the Bible, history, and 
science in support of slavery. There had always been slaves, 
he said, ever since the Flood, Christ tacitly approved slave- 
holding and so did the Holy Fathers. Criticism of slavery 
proceeded from the heated brains of fanatics whose misguided 
zeal disrupted the pattern of Christian living. As for Jeffer- 
son's disturbing ideas in Notes on Virginia, they were simply 
the "effusions of speculative philosophy of his young and 
ardent mind, and which his riper years have corrected," 
Let Northerners, he warned, think twice before interfering 
with Southern institutions* 

Smith's devious route to "higher ground/' Garrison soon 
learned, marked the trail for many a Southern pamphleteer 
in the next few years. Already new groups of propagandists 
were urging Southerners to quit apologizing for slavery* 
The South Carolinians Thomas Cooper, Whitemarsh B* 
Seabrook, and Edward Brown attempted to prove the merits 


of the slave system with Biblical and historical precedents. 
"Slavery," Brown wrote, "has ever been the stepping ladder 
by which countries have passed from barbarism to civiliza- 
tion.' 74 As the decade progressed these sentiments were echoed 
throughout the lower South until, in 1829, the Governor of 
South Carolina could announce to the legislature, "Slavery is 
not a national evil; on the contrary, it is a national benefit" 
Soon Thomas R. Dew, James Hammond, William Harper, 
and Albert Taylor Bledsoe would embroider this argument 
with their own distinctive rhetoric, but with the exception of 
George Fitzhugh, later pro-slavery thinkers added little to this 
premise. Arguments from Scripture and history sufficed for 
some years to come to hold the line against Northern humani- 

Garrison was so impressed with Lundy's "unconquerable 
spirit of reform" that he decided to join his crusade. Hence- 
forth slavery took precedence over all the other moral causes 
with his decision "to spread the light of knowledge and 
religious liberty wherever darkness and superstition reign." 
But the National Philanthropist proved a poor medium for 
his new cause. Its circulation was none too healthy, and be- 
sides, as the owner reminded him, it was a prohibition paper 
which supposedly eschewed political controversy. Yet politics 
were crowding in on Garrison until his self-imposed restraints 
on editorial opinion suddenly seemed hypocritical He ex- 
amined the tariff question again and found New England's 
demands for protection perfectly just. When. South Caro- 
lina publicly weighed the value of the Union, he could not 
refrain from offering a word of warning to her "blustering 
demagogues" with their "rebellion mania." "Now all this 
bombast and bullying will accomplish nothing. The tariff 
may be oppressive and unproductive, but it cannot be altered 
till another session of Congress. If THE PEOPLE are dissatisfied, 


let them wait in quiet submission till December, and then let 
petitions for redress pour in. ... But to declaim about open 
resistance !!" Thus spoke the future secessionist in 1828. 

On the Fourth of July he submitted his resignation with 
the announcement that his new convictions forced him to seek 
"a different though perhaps not more honorable or beneficial 
employment." In August Lundy returned to the city for a 
second attempt to crack Boston's "icy reserve." Everywhere 
in New England he found Yankees rather "cool calculators" 
on the subject of slavery. His meeting in Boston was held in 
the vestry of the Federal Street Church despite the vehement 
protests of its pastor, the Reverend Howard Malcolm. Quietly 
yet forcefully Lundy outlined his program of voluntary 
manumission and criticized the American Colonization 
Society's policy of purchasing slaves, which, he argued, em- 
ployed the wealth but not the will of the people. When he 
finished, up jumped the Reverend Malcolm and proceeded 
to excoriate Lundy's scheme and any other plan for inter- 
fering with slavery. As slavery moved farther south, he 
pointed out, it was gradually declining and soon would be 
excluded from all but the southernmost states. Meanwhile it 
behooved Christians to refrain from agitating this vexing 

Garrison was incensed by Malcolm's bold apology for 
slavery; he dashed off a letter to the Boston Courier blasting 
Malcolm and calling on all "high-minded, spirited and phil- 
anthropic men" to join him in petitioning Congress for the 
abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. Next he drew 
up a plan for circulating petitions throughout the state. At a 
second meeting with Luady he suggested exploring the pos- 
sibilities of a local abolition society, but both he and Lundy 
knew how slim their chance of success really was. He was 


getting a taste of the opposition anti-slavery would provoke in 
the future, and he liked it. 

Lack of money and the importunings of politicians ended 
this first experiment in agitation. Late in August a group of 
town fathers from Bennington, Vermont, came to Boston in 
search of an unemployed editor with a spirit sufficiently ad- 
venturous to publish an Adams campaign sheet in their state. 
Directed to Garrison, they were desperate enough by this 
late date to accept all of his terms, including the right to 
discuss slavery and other moral reforms in the projected 
newspaper. As for Garrison, the lingering appeal of politics 
and the hope of a steady income for at least six months were 
strong inducements to return to the free-wheeling partisan 
journalism of the Free Press. He accepted on the spot. With 
a single timid anti-slavery petition and an unfinished plan for 
an abolitionist society to show for his conversion he set out 
for Bennington. 

Horace Greeley remembered the Journal of the Times 
the name of Garrison's new venture as one of the liveliest 
newspapers in the history of Vermont journalism. More ac- 
curate was the editor's description of it as "a very singular 
kind of political paper." 7 Its uniqueness lay, first of all, in its 
belated appearance: on the evening of October 2, 1828, when 
Garrison put the paper to bed for the first time, Andrew 
Jackson had all but won the election. By September, Old 
Hickory had been accepting the congratulations of well- 
wishers in the parlor of the Hermitage, and only the unduly 
pessimistic thought the honors premature. Adams was cheer- 
fully conceded all of New England, but the rest of the 
country was expected to go for Jackson. All that could be 
rightfully demanded of the Journal of the Times was to con- 
firm this sad prediction by holding Bennington and Vermont 
for the administration against the Jacksonian tide. 


Garrison's employers must have doubted their wisdom 
when they picked up the first issue of the Journal of the 
Times to read that their paper would be "trammelled by no 
interest, biased by no sect, awed by no power." The new 
editor defined his objectives as the suppression of intem- 
perance, the emancipation of the slave, and the perpetuity of 
national peace. Far down the list came the re-election of John 
Quincy Adams, which somehow was calculated to "supply the 
wants of the people." Unaccountably the rumor had spread 
that his paper was an Adams sheet. "The blockheads who have 
had the desperate temerity to propagate this falsehood have 
yet to learn our character. . . . We conduct a hireling press! 
we shall see." 8 What Bennington subscribers saw was a 
spiritless campaign for Adams. 

In timeworn Federalist cliches he warned of dangers greater 
than at any time since the formation of the Republic. The 
"dregs" of society "the vulgar, the profane, the intemper- 
ate" had been foolish enough to choose a conservative Ten- 
nessee landowner "with the most aristocratical propositions" 
to serve their selfish ends, "Unlettered presumption" threat- 
ened the country with "universal corruption," Garrison even 
suggested that British gold was at work buying votes for 
Jackson, though for purposes apparently unknown. He sum- 
moned Vermont to her duty, but his heart was not in it 
he simply could not warm to the task of fending off the 
indiscriminate charges hurled at Adams by the Jacksonians. 
Publicly he anticipated the time when the election was over 
and "our literary and moral departments will exhibit a ful- 
ness and excellence commensurate to their importance." 
When the election returns reached Bennington, he hurried to 
put a decent face on the rout by describing it as a victory of 
turbulence over order, ignorance over knowledge. He was 


happy to be free of his political obligation, and was just turn- 
ing to weightier matters when a final quarrel between Adams 
and the Federalist Old Guard erupted as if to vindicate his 
lackluster performance. 

Adams's troubles began when William B. Giles, an apostate 
Federalist, released a letter to the press stating on the authority 
of Jefferson that Adams had known of the secessionist plots 
of the New England Federalists as early as 1808 and had 
communicated them to Jefferson himself. Giles's letter not 
unnaturally roused the ire of the Massachusetts Federalists, 
who issued a denial and demanded an explanation from 
Adams. The ex-President was in no mood to renew the 
quarrel and replied carefully, admitting the general truth of 
Giles's allegation but refusing to name names. But the Fed- 
eralists were not to be thus mollified; in their rejoinder they 
raised the ghost of Adams's apostasy and added new charges. 
Garrison rushed to the aid of Otis and the Federalists. "We 
gave Mr. Adams our ardent and entire support till the close 
of the Presidential election/' he explained. But Adams had 
made aspersions on New England which presented him in a 
new light. He had instigated a needless quarrel and then re- 
treated from the fray with "neither the frankness of sincerity, 
nor the manliness of independence." If citizens had to choose, 
"it were better . . . that one man should be sacrificed, than 
that a large majority of the people of New England should 
be implicated in a charge of once harboring designs hostile 
to the Union." 10 Not until he saw the crusty old warrior 
battling singlehanded for the right of petitions in the House 
of Representatives ten years later did Garrison realize that 
he had misjudged his man. 

Bennington did not take kindly to the voluble visitor from 
the Bay State nor to his multifarious projects for its civic 
improvement, which included a lyceum, a local temperance 


society, a new heating plant for the church, and bigger and 
better Sunday schools. The sight of his angular figure loping 
across the green while he lectured a lagging companion, or 
poised like a stump orator on the edge of a group of loiterers, 
afforded the townspeople no end of merriment and quickly 
earned him the sobriquet " My Lloyd Garrulous/ 1 "He is, 
withal, a great egotist," wrote the rival editor of the Gazette, 
"and when talking of himself, displays the pert loquacity of a 
blue jay." He brought with him all the graces of a Boston 
dandy. One week his paper sported Horatian odes to the 
Green Mountains, "those stupendous monuments to God's 
right hand," the next, effusions of the poet who declared him- 
self "Immersed to the eyes in love" with a Boston belle. Then 
what were the plain citizens of Bennington to make of lines 
Mice these? 

Happy is he who disdains the earth, 

And plumes his hopes for a heavenly birth, 

Whose treasures are wisely laid above, 
SeaTd by the bond of eternal love* u 

No one could doubt his promise to agitate the slavery ques- 
tion. He followed the parliamentary debates on West Indian 
emancipation and combed the speeches of Thomas Foweli 
Buxton and Henry Peter Brougham for new ideas, Slowly 
it dawned on him that the English abolitionists had much to 
teach him. In x8z8, after years of planning, they had finally 
combined into a single society for the emancipation of slavery 
throughout the Empire* He hailed their achievement as "the 
most stupendous scheme of benevolence that lias ever been 
devised for the good of mankind" and recommended the 
immediate formation of a sioiilar society in the United States* 
Americans had leaders similar to William WHberforce and 


Thomas Clarkson they had their Websters and Clays who 
could "unquestionably put a new aspect on Europe and 
America." The fate of his first anti-slavery petition quickly 
taught him that nothing like the parliamentary strength of 
the English abolitionists was to be found in Congress. 

Two weeks after his arrival in Bennington he printed a 
notice of a meeting for the purpose of preparing a petition to 
Congress demanding the abolition of slavery in the District 
of Columbia. Without waiting for the approval of the meet- 
ing he hastily printed a petition and mailed it to every post- 
master in the state together with the request that it be re- 
turned with as many signatures as possible before the middle 
of December. The petition stated that the signers deemed it 
unnecessary to prove in detail the inconsistency of slavery 
with the principles of American government and the spirit of 
Christianity, and that while they admitted that Congress had' 
no power to legislate on slavery in the states, they earnestly 
prayed that it might remove the cancer "from the vitals of the 
republic." On January 26, 1829, Garrison's petition, bearing 
the names of two thousand three hundred and fifty-two 
citizens of Vermont, appeared before the House Committee 
for the District of Columbia. 

Meanwhile, on January <5, 1829, Representative Charles 
Miner of Pennsylvania took the floor with resolutions that 
instructed the Committee for the District of Columbia to 
consider the feasibility of abolishing the slave trade in the 
District. Garrison followed the subsequent debates closely, 
even scrutinizing the voting lists, and when he discovered that 
three New Engenders James W. Ripley of Maine, Jonathan 
Harvey of New Hampshire, and Rollin G Mallary of Ver- 
mont had opposed the resolution, he opened fire with one of 
the bitterest attacks of his editorial career. Who were these 
poltroons, he asked, these sanctimonious hypocrites who 


quoted the Bible to prove that might makes right and that it 
was right to destroy the souls of their fellow men? 

Are we in the Fifty Third Year of the Independence of the 
United States are we to gravely discuss the question, whether 
all men are born free and equal as if it were a new doctrine? Are 
we to learn, whether the colored of our race are really brutes 
or human beings? Whether they have bodies capable of suffering, 
or souls which can never die? Whether it is consistent with the 
principles of our government to shackle some of our species with 
galling chains, and to mar their image by applying the whip and 
the brand? Or whether it is criminal to traffic in human flesh, or 
degrading to buy and sell in a national capacity? 12 

Garrison chose the phrases "colored of our race" and "some 

of our species" to show that his case for universal brotherhood 
rested on the belief in a single creation* God had created all 
men at the same moment, and they were all equally His 
children* From this faith in equality he never retreated^ even 
when nineteenth-century science lent its support to the theory 
of the multiple creation of races. 

Ripley and Mallary, the "dough-faces' 7 who stood accused, 
protested against such uncivil treatment; but he refused to give 
an inch and sneered at their contention that Northern agita- 
tion of the slavery question would merely destroy Southern 
good will "So! we must continue to traffic in human flesh, 
and multiply our victims, and perpetuate the damning stain 
of oppression, in a national capacity, because an attempt to 
remove the disgrace would again rouse up the advocates of 
slavery! Good God! is this the language of a representative 
from New England this his htimanity y his moral courage, 
his sense of duty?" 11 

Presently there were other complaints about his harsh 


language, the Ne<w York Journal of Commerce taking the 
lead in censuring him. He fought back gamely against these 
"timid, half-minded, shivering4n-the~wind" editors, all of 
them "contemptible animals." "Your dependent, calculating 
editor is a wretched tool in the hands of designing men," he 
thundered. "He sacrifices principle to interest." 14 Actually, 
his language had changed no more than his attitude toward 
wrongdoing. He had been calling his opponents harsh names 
and imputing evil motives to them ever since he started writ- 
ing for Ephraim Allen. Jefferson had been a "criminal" and 
John Neal a "buffoon." Unitarians were "infidels" and Sab- 
bath-breakers "vicious degenerates." He did not need the 
example of British abolitionists to teach him how to call a 
spade a spade he simply applied the old words to a new 
sin. Privately he likened himself to the Old Testament proph- 
ets Isaiah and Jeremiah, who hurled imprecations like thunder- 
bolts to awaken a sleeping nation. His motives were not un- 
mixed strong language advertised both the sin and the man 
brave enough to name it. But one who feared "the terrible 
judgment of an incensed God" as much as he did worried 
only that his words might not be strong enough. 

Lundy came North again in January, 1829. In his talks with 
Garrison he proposed a merger of talents: he would continue 
his work with Haitian colonization, traveling and lecturing 
while Garrison replaced him as resident editor of the Genius. 
Garrison readily agreed. His contract was due to expire in 
March, and now that the election was over his employers 
had grown noticeably cool toward his abolition activities. 
Besides, anti-slavery promised to be a full-time job and Lundy 
an excellent teacher. The two men parted, agreeing to join- 
forces as soon as both were ready. On March 27, 1829, Garri- 
son published his third valedictory. 


To my apprehension the subject of slavery involves interest of 
a greater moment to our welfare as a republic, and demands a 
more prudent and minute investigation, than any other which 
has come before the American people since the Revolutionary 
struggle than all others which now occupy their attention. . . 
It is true, many a cheek burns with shame in view of our national 
inconsistency, and many a heart bleeds for the miserable African; 
it is true examples of disinterested benevolence and individual 
sacrifices are numerous, particularly in the Southern States; but 
no systematic* vigorous and successful measures have been made 
to overthrow this fabric of oppression. I trust in God that I may 
be the humble instrument of breaking at least one chain, and re- 
storing one captive to liberty: it will amply repay a life of severe 

Now there could be no turning back. In April he returned 
to Boston to await Lundy's call 

The Road to Prison 

IN BOSTON ONCE MORE Garrison found himself in "some- 
what of a hobble, in a pecuniary point of view" and 
made straight for Collier's, where he was sure of free room 
and board. No sooner had he settled there than his financial 
embarrassment grew acute he was served with a warrant 
for failing to attend the annual muster of the Newburyport 
militia. Five years before in a sudden burst of patriotism he 
had joined the local company, although he had never bothered 
to train. Now, with his newly acquired pacifist scruples, he re- 
solved to pay the fine. But with what? He sat down and wrote 
to his friend Jacob Horton in Newburyport confessing that 
he hadn't so much as a farthing and asking Horton for eight 
dollars to rescue him from his "unpleasant dilemma/' 1 Thus 
began the habit of indiscriminate borrowing which marked 
his financial dealings for the next forty years, most of them 
spent just one jump ahead of his creditors. He spent money 
freely; when it was gone, he sent his pride u on a pilgrimage to 
Mecca" and touched his friends for loans. Sometimes he paid 
them back, but just as often they wrote his debts off as good 
investments in reform. He never mastered the intricate fi- 
nances of the Liberator, whose accounts finally became so 
jumbled that it took a committee of unusually patient friends 
to unsnarl them. Eventually Ms colleagues came to recognize 


in him the reformer bent on directing other people's lives but 
requiring no small amount of managing himself. 

He discovered that the National Philanthropist was being 
edited by William Goodell, the hard-eyed evangelical re- 
former from Providence destined to be first an invaluable ally 
and then a dangerous enemy. Garrison helped with the press- 
work, and in the evenings, after a day at the composing desk, 
took his friend on long walks through Boston, talking all the 
while about Lundy and slavery. In conversations lasting long 
Into the night they swapped ideas for organizing anti-slavery 
in New England. Their ignorance helped to reduce the ques- 
tion to the manageable proportions of Christian conduct. If 
the gospel spelled equality before God, if the Declaration of 
Independence proclaimed equality before the law, then how 
could slaveholders be both Christians and democrats? If Chris- 
tianity and Infidelity were incompatible, where was the middle 
ground between democracy and slavery? 

From the outset Garrison^ hatred of slavery was an abstract 
concern centered exclusively on the contradiction of bondage 
in a free society. He did not need to know how slavery 
worked in order to condemn it. Slavery was evil, and evil 
could never produce good it was that simple. He won 
Goodell over to this view just as Lundy had converted him. 
When the National Philanthropist folded in August, 1829, 
Goodell returned to New York to spread his friend's ideas 
and help form a national anti-slavery society* 

In June, 1829, Garrison accepted an invitation from the 
American Colonization Society to deliver the annual Fourth 
of July address in Park Street Church. Here was what he had 
been waiting for, his first chance, at twenty-three, to reach a 
wider audience than the handful of reformers who gathered 
at Collier's. Carefully he drafted his speech, revising it again 
and again until it satisfied him* It was a long address too 


long, he admitted, for easy listening but barely sufficient to do 
justice to his momentous subject. He trembled at the thought 
of speaking before an audience that "bids fair to be over- 
whelming." John Pierpont had composed an ode for the occa- 
sion, and Whittier and Goodell promised to attend; but most 
of his listeners would be members of the staid Congregational 
Society prepared to accept colonization as an unpleasant duty 
but not even remotely interested in abolition. For these faint- 
hearted he promised some "severe animadversions" that might 
offend "though not reasonably." 2 

His sponsor, the American Colonization Society, symbol- 
ized the confusion of American thinking on slavery before 
1830. The philosophy of the colonizationists developed logi- 
cally out of the equivocal views of the Revolutionary gener- 
ation and its chief spokesman, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson 
hated slavery both in principle and in fact. He believed that 
even if it were proven that Negroes were inherently inferior 
to whites, it did not follow that slavery was either just or 
right "whatever be their degree of talent, it is no measure 
of their rights" Yet he was by no means sure that the Negro 
was inferior. He set out to study the race carefully, observing 
their actions and accomplishments, seeking information where- 
ever he could find it on the mental capacities of both slaves 
and freedmen. The further he pursued his investigations, how- 
ever, the more certain he grew of the inferiority of the Negro. 
He was convinced that "the whole commerce between master 
and slave is a perpetual exercise in the most boisterous pas- 
sions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part and 
degrading submission on the other," and that "the blacks, 
whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time 
and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in endowments 
of both mind and body." 8 It was impossible for both races to 
live together. The only solution lay in educating the Negro, 


preparing him for self-government, and then returning him 
to his native Africa. In Jefferson's mind, as in the view of the 
American Colonization Society of which he approved, benev- 
olence and expediency joined hands, 

Jefferson's opinion of the Negro was widely shared by the 
churchmen of his generation, who in general displayed more 
concern for the sensitivity of slaveholders than for the condi- 
tion of their slaves. They agreed with the Jeffcrsonian hu- 
manitarians that the Negro was totally unfit for democratic 
society and feared lest an ignorant and vicious colored popu- 
lation destroy white freedom. They thought of colonization 
as a kind of national blood purge, drastic therapy to restore 
the health of the body politic. The American Colonization 
Society was an offspring of the mating of these vague Chris- 
tian sentiments with the instinct for national self-preservation, 
a sickly child of eighteenth-century philanthropy. Jefferson's 
generation could never bring itself to believe in the "self- 
evident truths" of racial equality proclaimed in the Declara- 
tion of Independence, and the American clergy had never 
troubled themselves with such a pernicious abstraction to be- 
gin with. It was left to another age the ante-bellum gener- 
ation of Garrison and his abolitionists to apply the truth of 
equality literally. 

Efforts in behalf of colonization dated from 1800, when the 
Virginia Assembly in secret session passed a resolution em- 
powering the governor to correspond with the President of 
rthe United States "on the subject of purchasing lands without 
the Hmits of this State, whither persons obnoxious to the laws 
or dangerous to the peace of society may be removed/ 1 Jef- 
ferson responded enthusiastically to the Virginia proposal 
and suggested that in the event that no suitable haven could 
be found on the North American continent, "Africa would 
oifer a last and undoubted resort/* 4 He corresponded with 


the British government and the governors of Sierra Leone, 
and even considered the newly purchased Louisiana territory 
as a possible asylum for the blacks. There the matter rested, 
however, until 1816, when General Charles Mercer, one of 
the original architects of the Virginia plan, pledged himself 
to revive the secret resolutions of 1800 and set colonization 
in motion. 5 

On January i, 1817, the American Colonization Society 
held its first election of officers. Bushrod Washington was 
elected president, and vice-presidencies were scattered among 
twelve members from nine states. Lest there be any misunder- 
standing among the members as to the purpose of the Society, 
Henry Clay, a charter member and vice-president, reminded 
his colleagues at the first session that "it was not proposed to 
deliberate upon or consider at all, any question of emancipa- 
tion, or that which was connected with the abolition of slav- 
ery." Upon that condition alone, he continued, the many 
gentlemen present from the South and West had attended and 
could be expected to cooperate. 6 John Randolph quickly 
echoed Clay's admonition, adding that "it had not been suffi- 
ciently insisted on with a view to obtain the cooperation of 
all the citizens of the United States, not only that this meeting 
does not in any wise affect the question of Negro Slavery, but, 
as far as it goes, must materially tend to secure the property of 
every master in the United States over his slaves." 7 The So- 
ciety at the outset limited itself to the removal of the "idle, 
vicious and degraded blacks" who "sally forth from their 
coverts, beneath the obscurity of night and plunder the rich 
proprietors of the valleys" or "infest the suburbs of towns and 
cities." 8 The Northern clergy joined in declaring the free 
Negro a national menace, and these opinions soon received 
the official sanction of the society. At the seventh annual 
meeting of the society in 1823 Robert Goodloe Harper sum- 


marized the objects of colonization as first, the relief from a 
population "pregnant with future danger and present in- 
convenience," second, the removal of "a great public evil," 

and finally, the diffusion of "the blessings of knowledge and 
freedom on a continent that now contains 150 millions of 
people, plunged in all the degradation of idolatry, superstition, 
and ignorance," 9 Just how the degraded freeclman would 
Christianize a dark continent and enlighten its inhabitants 
neither Harper nor his fellow colonizationists cared to say. 

Despite the roseate predictions of its founder the achieve- 
ments of the Colonization Society in its first dozen years were 
not impressive. Between 1820 and 1830 only 1420 Negroes 
were returned to Africa. Until 1827 all the emigrants were 
free Negroes; after that date the number included slaves who 
had received their freedom on condition that they be de- 
ported. The expenditures of the society for this decade 
amounted to $106,367.72, or roughly seventy-five dollars for 
every Negro deported- The Upper South led in the number 
of emigrants, Virginia sending 580 and North Carolina, 400- 
South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi, where slavery was 
most profitable, sent a combined total of 73 deportees, Of the 
first consignment of 84 blacks expatriated in 1820, 24 died* 
The mortality rate for Negroes transported during the rainy 
season continued to be one in four, while for those lucky 
enough to be deported in the dry season it was one in six* 10 
By 1829 Southerners were justly complaining of the cruel 
absurdity of the scheme and Northerners of its effects in 
strengthening slavery. Both were right. In trying to be all 
things to all men the Colonization Society had succeeded only 
in entangling its members in a monstrous contradiction; their 
humanitarianism had fashioned an inefficient and inhuman 
system. This was the institution that requested Garrison's serv- 
ices on July 4, 1829. 


The Park Street address contained the germ of almost every 
argument Garrison ever used. The occasion was a coloniza- 
tion meeting but the speaker was already an abolitionist. He 
began by defining slavery as a national sin and turned immedi- 
ately to an indictment of American religion. What was Chris- 
tianity doing for the nation? It explored the isles of the seas 
in search of converts but ignored the slave languishing in 
misery at home. It formed charities into golden links of be- 
nevolence but allowed the black man to perish in iron chains. 
Could Christians contend with cannibals and yet be conquered 
by their own children? "I will say, finally, that I despair of 
the Republic while slavery exists therein. . . . our destruction 
is not only possible but almost certain." 11 

Suppose, he went on, that by a miracle all the slaves were 
suddenly made white? What would his audience do then? 
"Would you shut your eyes upon their sufferings, and calmly 
talk of constitutional limitations?" To keep men in chains be- 
cause of their color was beneath contempt. "This is their 
country by birth, not by adoption. Their children possess 
the same inherent and unalienable rights as ours, and it is a 
crime of the blackest dye to load them with fetters." The 
occasion was the fifty-third anniversary of the signing of the 
Declaration of Independence and a time to remind Americans 
of the glaring contradiction between their creed and their 
actions. "In view of it I am ashamed of my country. I am 
sick of our unmeaning declarationan praise of liberty and 
equality, of our hypocritical cant about the unalienable rights 
of man." 

This was not the language of moderation so dear to the 
Colonization Society, but an appeal to higher law that could 
prove fatal to the spirit of good will it celebrated. When he 
spoke of "sacred principles," Garrison meant nothing less 
than a body of moral truths so distinct and compelling as to 


peed no proof. Far from being a philosopher, he was not even 
fa very logical thinker: his habit of avoiding intellectual com- 
plexities was already deeply ingrained. All of his ethical ideas, 
grounded as they were in a profound anti-intellectual bias, 
proved impervious to analysis, but as he explained them now 
they seemed simple and self-evident, 

The foundation of his moral system was an unshakable faith 
in a supreme law of God binding everywhere and at all times. 
He believed that this same divine law manifested itself in the 
revelations of the Bible and in the reason of men. Since all 
law began in the immutable will of God it followed that 
divine law and the law of nature were really one and the same 
command. In the final judgment all man-made law all hu- 
man conduct had to be tested by the divine standard. It 
mattered little, therefore, whether slavery was measured by 
Biblical precept or the "self-evident" truths of the Declara- 
tion of Independence. In either case it failed of God's ap- 
proval All men, individually and collectively, could judge 
when their actions harmonized with higher law, but the best 
guide to the moral life was the individual conscience. In ap- 
pealing directly to this moral sense in each of his listeners 
Garrison was in effect inviting them to practice a kind of 
philosophical anarchy. He was aware only of making piety 
rather than utility the standard of human conduct, but those 
of his listeners who were wiser than he recognized his words 
for what they were a plea for Christian perf ection* 

As a child of light he conceived of the religious sense as the 
universal property of mankind* This religious sense, which 
he thought of simply as an awareness of divine presence, 
directed men through their consciences. It was conscience 
alone that gave men their unique dignity, defined them as 
humans and determined their worth. Once they understood 
the divine purpose they could carry out God's promises of a 


final triumph of righteousness over sin, life over death, spirit 
over matter. Slaveholders, by refusing to acknowledge this 
human quality in the Negro, denied the fundamental religious 
sense of mankind. They were practicing atheists. Slavery 
could thus be explained as the willful repudiation of God's 
commands by unbelievers. For the flouting of divine law 
Garrison held the slaveowner directly responsible; in his 
view the master was an evil man who had closed his heart to 
the word of God. The sinner embodied the sin. It was just this 
identification of the sinner with the sin that troubled his 
colonization audience, who saw slavery as an incidental so- 
cial evil best cured by removing the Negro. They were not 
prepared to grant his cardinal principle that slavery was 
"inhumane" because it denied to Negroes the dignity of men 
nor could they accept his reading of the Declaration of 

As he produced it for the examination of his audience the 
Declaration of Independence emerged not as an elaborate 
metaphysical discussion but as a simple, common-sense ap- 
proximation of the law of God. He was oblivious to the 
dangers of identifying reason with revelation or Scripture 
with natural rights. He only knew that the rights of life, 
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness spoke to the rational 
faculties of men just as God's word appealed to the universal 
religious sense. Somehow he was not sure how the Bible 
and the Declaration fused into a mystical corpus of higher 
law, the "injunctions of Holy Writ" upheld "the common 
dictates of humanity." 

In citing Scripture as the final authority against slavery he 
did not mean to include all of the Old Testament or even 
those parts of the New which appeared to sanction slavery. 
The trouble with plenary inspiration, he had discovered, was 
that it solved nothing. To every passage exhorting Christians 


to proclaim liberty to the captives, slaveholders could counter 
with Paul's injunction to treat one's slaves mercifully. The 
truth was that Garrison was launched on a process of interpre- 
tative reading of the Bible that could only end in the rejection 
of all Scripture except the gospel of Jesus. The Park Street 
address took an advanced position against the pro-slavery 
forces from which there was no retreat. 

He closed his two-hour performance with an appeal to the 
churches. "Let them pour out their supplications to Heaven 
in behalf of the slave. Prayer is omnipotent: its breath can 
melt the adamantine rocks, its touch can break the stoutest 
chains." In years to come his bitter and unreasoning hatred 
of the American churches puzzled and offended his more 
moderate followers who never understood how great had 
been his initial belief in their efficacy. In 1829 he was certain 
that once Christian opinion was brought to bear on slavery 
it would not survive another day. Let Christians awake, there- 
fore, and arm for a holy contest. "I call upon the churches of 
the living God to lead this great enterprise. If the soul be 
immortal, priceless, save it from remediless woe." 

Most of Garrison's audience thought this note of alarm ill- 
considered and premature. What was it this young man said 
about disunion "the fault is not ours if a separation eventu- 
ally take place"? If, as they devoutly believed, the American 
political genius was most perfectly expressed in the art of 
accommodation and compromise, then here was the kind of 
misguided zeal the society could well do without. As for his 
wild notions of inaugurating a mass movement against slavery, 
they could do without this too. The Park Street address, 
though it excited misgivings among the colonizationists, 
scarcely stirred the millpond surface of Boston society* 
Goodell dutifully reported the speech in the failing National 
Philanthropist, but before Garrison realized how Httle he had 


impressed the city, Lundy's call came and he hurried off to 

Lundy had already announced the new partnership and 
recommended his colleague as a man "in every way qualified" 
as an anti-slavery crusader. No sooner did Garrison appear, 
however, than he began to object to colonization, explaining 
to Lundy that since July he had had some sobering second 
thoughts on the justice of exporting the Negroes either to 
Africa or to Haiti. The whole scheme, he announced, looked 
like a fraudulent device for stamping the Negro with the mark 
of inferiority. He was sure now that nothing short of total and 
immediate emancipation would satisfy the demands of Chris- 
tian behavior. Would this opinion obstruct Lundy's Haitian 
project and could the two men consent to disagree? "Well," 
Lundy replied, "thee may put thy initials to thy articles, and 
I will put my initials to mine, and each will bear his own 
burden." "Very well, that will answer," Garrison rejoined, 
"and I will be able to free my soul." 

He boarded with Lundy at the home of two Quaker ladies 
in Market Street, where he met with a new kind of religious 
reformer. Most of Lundy's friends and associates were Quak- 
ers and free Negroes John Needles, a devout Friend who 
had helped Lundy and would help Garrison in the future, 
William Watltins, Jacob Greener and his sons, free Negroes 
and better enemies of the Colonization Society. The atmos- 
phqre in Market Street differed sharply from the professional 
air in Collier's nest of reformers, for Lundy's friends exhibited 
little of the studied benevolence and organizational zeal of 
the Boston evangelicals. Their practical piety and simple ways 
contrasted markedly with the smugness and self-assurance of 
the new arrival It was not long before Garrison saw that 
these quiet people with their apostoMc ideas of love and sense 
of personal cooun&meat had much to teach him* 


In September the two editors set to work supplying the 
Genius of Universal Emancipation with a new face. The 
paper, enlarged and expanded, now appeared every week. 
Beneath an American eagle perched on the masthead stood 
Garrison's motto, the quotation from the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence proclaiming the equality of all men. For the first 
time in his career he was free from the arduous work of type- 
setting and proofreading. The Genius was commissioned to 
the Baltimore firm of Lucas and Deaver, printers obliging 
enough to accept the work on credit. 

From the beginning it was clear that the two men had 
agreed to go their own ways. Lundy launched a series of 
articles on Haiti describing in radiant terms the condition of 
the expatriates there. He explained that the situation was much 
improved over the three years previous: Haitian proprietors 
were gradually becoming reconciled to granting emigrants 
land, and the government was beginning to take an active 
interest in their welfare. "There the color of their skin will 
not be looked upon as a mark of degradation," Lundy wrote. 
Happily surveying the cloudless skies over Haiti he ignored 
the storm his young associate was busy brewing right in 
Baltimore. Garrison had elected to settle his accounts with 
the Colonization Society in his opening editorial. 

He approached his subject by the devious route of praise. 
No one, he declared, was a truer friend to the Colonization 
Society than he. But the work of colonization was exceed- 
ingly dilatory and uncertain. "Viewed as an auxiliary, it de- 
serves encouragement; but as a remedy it is altogether in- 
adequate." The results of ten years' work were far from 
encouraging. "For my own part, I do not believe that the 
removal of the great body of the blacks can be effected by 
voluntary contributions or individual sacrifice; and if we de- 
pend alone upon the efforts of colonization societies, slavery 


will never be exterminated." In place of the ambiguous phrases 
of the society he offered the following propositions: 

1. That the slaves are entitled to immediate and complete 
emancipation: consequently, to hold them longer in bond- 
age is both tyrannical and unnecessary. 

2. That the question of expediency has nothing to do with 
that of right, and it is not for those who tyrannise to say 
when they may safely break the chains of their sub- 
jects. . . . 

3. That, on the ground of expediency, it would be wiser to 
set all the slaves free to-day than tomorrow or next 
week than next year. To think of removing them all out 
of the land is visionary. . . . Hence, the sooner they re- 
ceive the benefits of instruction, the better for them and 
us. We can educate two millions of slaves, now, with 
more facility and success than four millions at the expira- 
tion of twenty-five years. Give them liberation, and every 
inducement to revolt is removed; give them employment 
as free laborers, and their industry will be more produc- 
tive and beneficial than mines of gold; give them religious 
and secular instruction, restrict them with suitable regula- 
tions, and they will make peaceable citizens. . . . 

4. That, as a very large proportion of our colored population 
were born on American soil, they are at liberty to choose 
their own dwelling place, and we possess no right to use 
coercive measures in their removal. 12 

As with so many of Garrison's later pronunciamentos the 
editorial clarity was more apparent than real. "Immediate and 
complete emancipation" what did it mean? In spite of his 
temerity he did not know. Thus the phrase "suitable regula- 
tions," which signified that he had no plan, that all plans were 
matters of mere "expediency" with which he need not con- 
cern himself. He was concerned solely with the abolition of 


the status of slavery. What followed then, whether appren- 
ticeship, forced labor, copyhold, progressive enfranchisement, 
mattered little. Let Americans admit that slavery was a sin, 
he seemed to be saying, and they would find a solution. Be- 
hind all his radical statements lurked the old evangelical argu- 
ment that God in His infinite mercy and wisdom would find 
a way if only men believed in Him. But this was mere equivo- 
cation. Did Garrison mean to raise the slaves to full citizen- 
ship in one bold stroke? Or did he contemplate an indefinite 
period of education and preparation? How were Negroes to 
be trained for "productive'' labor and the duties of freemen? 
How long would they be second-class citizens? Would they 
be the wards of the state or the responsibility of the federal 
government? As yet these questions were hypothetical; some- 
day they would become real and need answers. "Immediate 
emancipation" followed by "suitable regulations" was not 
freedom but slavery under another name. Yet without some 
plan or method immediate emancipation was only a cruel 
joke. In his haste to disown the Colonization Society he failed 
to recognize this dilemma. It seemed to him that only the 
principle mattered. "If justice requires instant abolition, then 
surely it is proper to obey its mandates. Don't talk of expedi- 
ency as an off set; as if it were expedient to persevere in crime, 
year after year! Never ... do evil, that good may come."" 
Beyond this Christian precept he was not prepared to venture. 
Garrison was not the first of the American abolitionists to 
espouse immediate emancipation. Probably the first American 
advocate of immediatism was George Bourne, an English 
emigrant who settled in New York City after seven years of 
observing slavery at first hand in Virginia, Bourne's chief 
work, The Book and Slavery Irreconcilable, which appeared 
in 1815, was an uncompromising indictment of slavery which 
even Garrison's could not surpass. Bourne leveled his axgu- 


ments directly at the personality of the slaveholder. "Every 
man who holds Slaves and who pretends to be a Christian or 
Republican," he protested, "is either an incurable Idiot who 
cannot distinguish good from evil, or an obdurate sinner who 
resolutely defies every social, moral and divine requisition.' 714 

Beside this fiery arraignment Garrison's declaration in the 
Genius of Universal Emancipation seems like pale copy. Al- 
though Garrison never admitted a debt to Bourne's pamphlet, 
it would be strange indeed if a convert with his literary tastes 
who pored over Congressional and Parliamentary debates and 
studied the works of abolitionist pioneers had not read it by 
1829. Another argument for immediate emancipation with 
which Garrison may have been familiar was James Duncan's 
Treatise on Slavery, printed in Indiana in 1824. Duncan con- 
demned gradual manumission as "moral turpitude," and, like 
Bourne before him, prescribed immediate emancipation as the 
only sure remedy for "heinous sin." 

If by "immediate emancipation" Garrison meant only the 
immediate adoption of laws providing for gradual emancipa- 
tion, priority is even less his due. There were a host of anti- 
slavery pioneers before his entrance into the field who had 
advocated one form or another of immediate anti-slavery 
legislation. In 1812 Amos Stoddard strongly urged the pas- 
sage of laws for freeing the post nati. A few years later Est- 
wick Evans proposed that the federal government purchase 
all slaves and grant them their freedom when they had worked 
out their purchase price. Various other plans for immediate 
action were offered after 1815 by John Adams, John Jay, 
Daniel Raymond, Edward Settle, and Samuel Sewall. Thus 
by 1829 immediate emancipation, though by no means a 
widely shared doctrine, had been propounded in some form a 
number of times by men every bit as zealous as Lundy's 


Without stopping to examine his new principle in the light 
of the actual conditions of slavery in Baltimore, he turned to 
perfecting his techniques for agitating immediate abolition. 
Soon he discovered a set of simple rules for indoctrinating the 
American public, which he taught to a whole generation of 
anti-slavery radicals. The first and most important of the 
Garrisonian axioms was his command not to explain but to 
denounce. "Slavery is a monster," he taught the readers of 
the Genius, "and he must be treated as such hunted down 
bravely, and despatched at a blow." Next inculcate a sense 
of guilt, collective and individual, by emphasizing the barbar- 
ity of slavery. "We read of the dark ages, and wonder at the 
depravity of mankind; yet we now defend practices, and 
nourish vices which throw as disastrous an eclipse over our 
land, as any that brooded over the earlier period of our 
world." Then stress the disparity between American pro- 
fession and American practice. "We panegyrize our freedom 
and equality, as a knave boasts of his honesty, or a courtezan 
of her chastity. Our Declaration of Independence declares, 
that 'all men are born equal' but it lies, in the face of heaven 
and earth, if our practices are defensible; and the lie is re- 
peated annually, all over the land, by a multitude of men who 
make high pretensions to the truth." 15 Spare neither North nor 
South in your censures. "It is a solemn truth, that in New 
England the free blacks have fewer privileges, and are treated 
more contemptuously than those in the slave states." 16 Chide 
the people for their failure to perform their duty as citizens 
by voting down slavery. "How have they met their responsi- 
bility? By undutifully absenting themselves from the polls! 
by sinking into a culpable and despairing apathy! by sur- 
rendering their arms without a show of resistance! by re- 
fusing to co-operate at a time when every thing valuable is at 
stake." 17 Finally, reprobate the lack of Christian, zeal in the 


American churches and denounce the ministers responsible 
for this moral laxity. 

With reverence, and in the name of God, we ask what sort of 
religion is now extant among us? Certainly not such as cheered 
the prophets through the gloom of the old dispensation . . . not 
such as Jesus laid down his life to vindicate. ... It is a religion 
which complacently tolerates open adultery, oppression, robbery, 
and murder! seldom or never lifting up a wavering voice, or a 
note of remonstrance, or propitiatory sacrifice! a religion, 
which is graduated by the corrupt, defective laws of the 
State, and not by the pure, perfect laws of God! a religion, 
which quadrates with the natural depravity of the heart, giving 
license to sin, restraining no lust, mortifying not the body, en- 
gendering selfishness and cruelty! a religion which walks in 
'silver slippers,' on a carpeted floor, having thrown off the burden 
of the cross, and changed the garments of humiliation for the 
splendid vestments of pride! a religion which has no courage, 
no faithfulness, no self-denial, deeming it better to give heed unto 
men than unto God! Verily, this generation will have a solemn 
account to give in the great and terrible day of judgment. 18 

It was no accident that his formula for anti-slavery agitation 
contained the ingredients of martyrdom complete with crown 
of thorns. In the autumn of 1 829 the brig Francis out of New- 
buryport cleared Baltimore harbor bound for New Orleans 
with a cargo of slaves for the Louisiana sugar plantations. The 
Francis was owned by one Francis Todd, a well-to-do New- 
buryport merchant with considerable prestige and, as it turned 
out, a very thin skin. Her captain was Nicholas Brown, a 
Yankee skipper with a long and creditable record in the 
coastal trade and a reputation as an honest and humane skip- 
per. The slave cargo of the Francis was part of a total of 
fifty thousand Negroes transported annually either over the 
mountains or down the coast to the Gulf States. The principal 


effect in the United States of the prohibition of the inter- 
national slave trade had been to increase the demand for slaves 
from Virginia and Maryland. As the price of slaves rose 
precipitously so did the number of slave-dealers and merchants 
in the domestic trade who were not above making an occa- 
sional slave voyage when business was slow. Todd was only 
one of a number of New Englanders engaged in the domestic 
slave trade on a part-time basis, and his cargo of eighty-eight 
blacks was not particularly noteworthy. But he had the double 
misfortune of hailing from Newburyport and arousing the 
curiosity of his fellow townsman. 

One of Garrison's innovations in the Genius of Universal 
Emancipation was the "Black List," a forerunner of the "Ref- 
uge of Oppression" column in the Liberator, in which he 
printed examples of the barbarities of slavery kidnappings, 
whippings, murders. In the issue for November 13, 1829, 
there appeared a notice of the departure of the Francis with 
the editor's caustic reminder that the ship was owned by a 
New England man. "So much for New England principle!" 
he scoffed and promised to allude to "this damning affair" 
more particularly in his next number. True to his promise, he 
returned to the Todd incident determined "to cover with 
thick infamy all who were concerned in this nefarious busi- 
ness." 1 * Todd and Captain Brown he denounced as "highway 
robbers and murderers," "enemies of their own species." "I 
recollect," he continued, "that it was always a mystery in 
Newburyport how Mr. Todd contrived to make profitable 
voyages to New Orleans and other places, when other mer- 
chants, with as fair an opportunity to make money, and send- 
ing to the same ports at the same time, invariably made fewer 
successful speculations." Now the mystery was unraveled. 

Any man can gather up riches if he does not care by what means 
they are obtained. The Francis carried off seventy-five slaves, 


chained in a narrow place between decks. Capt. Brown originally 
intended to take one hundred and fifty of these unfortunate crea- 
tures; but another hard-hearted shipmaster underbid him in the 
price of passage for the remaining moiety. 

He sent a copy of the article to the Nevuburyport Herald, 
hoping that Allen would reprint it, and another to Todd 

Lundy knew that Garrison's article veered dangerously 
near the shoals of libel. A pungent stylist in his own right, 
Lundy had nevertheless acquired the journalist's habit of stick- 
ing closely to the facts, and Garrison's easy appropriation of 
hearsay discomfited him sorely. This was not the first time he 
had received complaints about the junior editor's language. 
With not a little apprehension they waited to see what Todd 
would do. He soon obliged them by filing a suit for libel. A 
month later, in February, 1830, they were presented with an- 
other action by the State of Maryland for "contriving and 
unlawfully, wickedly, and maliciously intending to hurt, in- 
jure, and vilify" the Massachusetts shipowner. Todd's civil 
suit was postponed pending the outcome of the state's action 
at law. 

The trial in which Lundy and Garrison were co-defendants 
was held on the first day of March, 1830, before Judge 
Nicholas Brice in the Baltimore City Court. The editors were 
fortunate in securing the counsel of an able young lawyer of 
liberal sympathies, Charles Mitchell, who offered his services 
without charge. Witnesses for the prosecution included 
Todd's Baltimore agent, the pilot of the Francis, a customs 
officer, and the printers of the Geniw. Attempts by Lundy 
and Garrison to limit the indictment to specific counts and 
their demands for articles of proof of libelous intent were 
unavailing. Garrison's editorial was admitted just as he had 
written it. The prosecution showed that whereas there were 


eighty-eight, not seventy-five, slaves aboard the Francis, none 
of them had been chained, but all of them allowed their free- 
dom below decks, and that they had received humane treat- 
ment and had even been permitted to hold daily prayer 
meetings. Further evidence was offered to show that Captain 
Brown enjoyed a reputation for kindness in the trade, and that 
Todd, disliking the business of carrying human cargo, had 
only agreed to the contract because, as he put it, "freights 
were dull, times hard, and money scarce." The prosecuting 
attorney closed his case by pointing out that no law had been 
broken by Todd and Brown and that only Garrison's fanati- 
cism and virulence could explain his attack. 

Now if Garrison had possessed the instincts of a true re- 
porter, he might have checked the real story of the loading of 
the Francis and uncovered the facts which could have cleared 
him. Subsequent investigation revealed that the Negroes, terri- 
fied at the prospect of joining slave gangs in Louisiana, had 
escaped to the nearby woods, where they were finally recap- 
tured and driven half naked and panic-stricken back to the 
ship. Without this damaging evidence Mitchell could only 
defend his clients in terms of higher law and attempt to play 
on the sympathies of the jury. Eloquence was not enough: it 
took the jury just fifteen minutes to return a verdict of guilty. 
A motion for a new trial was denied, and a judgment rendered 
fining Garrison, now identified as the sole author of the of- 
fending editorial, fifty dollars and costs. Since he lacked the 
money to pay his fine and the usually resourceful Lundy 
failed him, he had no choice but to accept a jail sentence of 
six months. On April 17, with the inmates' cries of "Fresh 
fish!" ringing in his ears, he strode into the Baltimore Jail 
calmly prepared to exploit his imprisonment to the fullest. 

Lundy had been forced to suspend the Genius while he 
helped his friend fight the libel suit. He defended Garrison 


to the end, insisting that while there were many of his edi- 
torials that had not met with his approval, Garrison had never 
deliberately flouted his wishes. As for their personal relation- 
ship, "we have ever cherished for each other the kindliest 
feelings and mutual personal regard. It would be superfluous 
in me to say that he has proven himself a faithful and able 
coadjutor in the great and holy cause in which we are en- 
gaged. Even his enemies will admit it." 20 Garrison apolo- 
gized neither to Lundy nor to his readers. His only regret, he 
announced, was that so far his views on immediate emancipa- 
tion had been "imperfectly developed" and that, concerned 
with the "cares and perplexities of the establishment," he had 
not succeeded in making his position absolutely clear. "I have 
used strong, indignant, vehement language, and direct, scorch- 
ing reproof. I have nothing to recall" 21 

Life behind bars began pleasantly enough, as the following 
bit of calculated playfulness written to Harriet Farnham Hor- 
ton clearly shows: 

Baltimore Jail 
May 12, 1830 

, . . I am as meek as any occupant of a ten-foot building in 
our great Babel ... It is true, I am not the owner of this huge 
pile, nor the grave lord-keeper of it; but then, I pay no rent 
am bound to make no repairs and enjoy the luxury of inde- 
pendence divested of its cares. ... I sing as often, and quite as 
well as I did before my wings were clipped. 

To change the figure: here I strut the lion of the day, and, of 
course, attract a great number of visitors, as the exhibition is 
gratuitous so that, between the labors of my brain, the conver- 
sation of my friends, and the ever changing curiosities of this 
huge menagerie, time flies away astonishingly swift. Indeed, so 
perfectly agreeable is my confinement, that I have no occasion 
to call upon my philosophy or patience. . . , 22 


Given the freedom of the huge jail, he spent much of his 
time wandering about the corridors and chatting with the 
other prisoners. His meals he took with the warden and his 
family. Lundy came often to discuss plans, bringing with him 
Isaac Knapp, Garrison's old friend, who had arrived from 
Boston to help Lundy until Garrison was released. One of the 
daily occurrences in the jail was the visit of the slave-traders 
to buy Negroes, slave or free, who had been collected over- 
night. On one occasion Garrison confronted a master who 
came to reclaim his slave and spent an enjoyable hour arguing 
the merits of Noah's curse as proof of the divine sanction of 
slavery. He won the debate but lost the case. It was satisfying 
to give his return address as Baltimore Jail, and though he now 
and again gave way to his longings to return to New England 
"that paradise of our fallen world" his chief worry was 
that he might be released before he had time to publicize his 


First on the promotional agenda came an account of the 
trial itself, an eight-page pamphlet entitled A Brief Sketch of 
the Trial of William Lloyd Garrison, for an Alleged Libel of 
one Francis Todd, of Massachusetts, which he dashed off in 
the space of a week to call the attention of the world to 
Maryland justice. After expatiating on the unfairness of the 
proceedings and the vindictiveness of the prosecutor at length 
he arrived at his central theme himself . If Judge Brice 
thought he had stifled a public nuisance, he was wrong. "So 
long as a good Providence gives me strength and intellect, I 
will not cease to declare that the existence of slavery is a foul 
reproach to the American name. ... I am only in the 
alphabet of my task; time shall perfect a useful work." He 
cited in his defense the civil rights guaranteed in the Consti- 
tution, stalking horses he would ride for thirty-five years. 
"I think it will appear," he concluded in a sudden shift to 


understatement, "that freedom of the press has been invaded, 
and that power and not justice, has convicted me." 

When he tired of letter-writing and moral strictures, there 
was the Byronic gesture of inscribing a sonnet on the walls of 
his cell exalting the "immortal MIND" and its victory over 
massive bolts and iron grates. Meanwhile Lundy attended to 
the distribution of the pamphlet, and by June was able to re- 
port that over one hundred newspapers and periodicals had 
praised the dauntless young editor who dared to tell the truth 
about slavery. 

One day early in June, Lundy appeared at the jail with the 
money for Garrison's fine and a letter from Arthur Tappan, 
the New York philanthropist. Tappan had read Garrison's 
sketch of the trial with a deepening hatred of slavery. He 
paid the fine and donated another hundred dollars to help 
revive the Genius, which he said was much needed "to hold up 
to American freemen, in all its naked deformity, the subject 
of slavery.' m On June 5, forty-nine days after he first entered 
the jail, Garrison walked serenely out of the yard, pleased 
with the thought of returning to Boston but even more satis- 
fied with his first small offering on the altar of freedom. 

Launching the Liberator 

GARRISON HEADED NORTH in June, 1830, with a letter of 
recommendation from Lundy and just enough pocket 
money to get to Boston. He was determined to organize an 
anti-slavery society as soon as possible, but that took money 
and friends. Thanks to advance publicity his name was al- 
ready known in reform circles in Boston and New York. Rid- 
ing the lumbering coaches northward from Baltimore, he 
decided to capitalize on his stroke of good luck in winning the 
notice of the influential Arthur Tappan by calling on his 
benefactor in person. 

Arthur Tappan, the man who paid Garrison's fine and 
helped finance the Liberator, dominated the American reform 
movement in 1830 as no single individual after him. A native 
of Northampton, Massachusetts, he had been raised on the 
Yankee precepts of holiness and thrift. In 1815 at the age of 
twenty-nine he established a dry-goods emporium at No. 162 
Pearl Street in New York City. When a sudden influx of 
Manchester cottons flooded the market and swept the new 
firm into bankruptcy, Tappan turned his reputation for prob- 
ity to good account by shifting to French silks and quickly 
built a thriving business on the untried policy of low prices 
and cash payments. With the sizable profits from his venture 
he began to finance the American millennium Bible and 


tract societies, the free church movement, schools for Ne- 
groes, a female rescue league, the temperance cause, and 
Christian journalism. In an age of associations he was the 
prince of joiners a member of the United Domestic Mis- 
sionary Society, the Young Men's Missionary Society, an 
honorary director of the New York Evangelical Missionary 
Society, a liberal supporter of the American Tract Society, to 
which he gave the initial sum of twenty thousand dollars at its 
formation, a patron of the American Bible Society, in whose 
name he established one hundred scholarships at Yale. An- 
other of his projects was the Magdalen Society of New York, 
an "Asylum for Females who Deviated from Paths of Virtue," 
and still another, the Journal of Commerce, a newspaper run 
on Christian principles with which to fight the liquor traffic, 
prostitution, circuses, and the theater. As a strict Sabbatarian he 
always made sure the presses stopped running promptly at 
midnight on Saturday. 1 

When Garrison first called on him Tappan was already 
famous as the patron saint of the evangelical crusade, a sharp 
critic of slavery, and the adviser of religious reformers all over 
the country. The machinery of New York's "Great Eight" 
was powered largely by funds supplied by Arthur Tappan & 
Company. From his cubicle in the center of the store he kept 
the wheels of his numerous engines of reform turning by 
drafting the necessary money orders and consulting with the 
host of Christian workers who came to him for advice. He 
kept no records of his donations and seldom mentioned them 
to others. Each morning he opened his store with a prayer 
meeting, and at noon when his clerks put down their bolts 
of cloth for lunch, he retired to his desk to munch a soda 
cracker and sip a glass of water while contemplating his 
weightier tasks jba the vineyard of the Lord. Behind his grave 


exterior, his formal courtesy and self-effacing manner there 
lurked the passion of a true believer. 

Tappan had supported the American Colonization Society 
for several years until he learned that rum and gunpowder 
were being shipped to the settlers in Liberia, whereupon he 
indignantly withdrew his aid. These doubts soon led to others, 
and when he read Garrison's attacks on the society in the 
Genius he was converted to abolition. He told Daniel 
Webster, who sought his help in founding a state colonization 
society in Massachusetts, that he was no longer interested in 
colonization, "for I see that it originated in a plan to get rid 
of the free negroes in order to render slavery more secure, and 
I will have nothing more to do with it." 2 Once he abandoned 
colonization he was determined to destroy it. It was he who 
urged Garrison on to a war of extermination against the 
society, writing to him of his desire to see more argument 
in the Liberator "to show THE IMPOSSIBILITY of the Coloniza- 
tion Society's ever effecting the entire removal of our colored 
slave population" Yet with characteristic humility Tappan 
credited Garrison, "that distinguished and fearless philan- 
thropist," with converting him to immediate emancipation. 4 

Arthur Tappan and his choleric brother Lewis, an equally 
devoted abolitionist, were surprised and favorably impressed 
with the meekness of the stormy petrel from Baltimore. "His 
appearance and deportment at that time," Lewis recalled, 
"were not likely to be forgotten. His manly form, buoyant 
spirit, and countenance beaming with conscious rectitude, 
attracted the attention of all those who witnessed his intro- 
duction to Mr. Tappan." 5 Garrison recounted his experiences 
in jail and confided to the brothers his hope of winning the 
forthcoming civil suit with Todd by uncovering new evidence 
in Newburyport. Arthur promised his help, and the next day 
Garrison set out for Boston. Although he succumbed to the 


young editor's infectious zeal, Tappan was by no means con- 
vinced of Garrison's fitness for publicizing the anti-slavery 
cause. He had read those blazing editorials in the Genius 
signed "W.L.G." and did not like their severity. Who knew 
what this firebrand might do once he was free from Lundy's 
chastening influence? He decided to wait and see. 

Meanwhile Garrison, heartened by his interview with Tap- 
pan, returned to Newburyport to find the town nearly as cold 
on the subject of slavery as Baltimore. Ephraim Allen and his 
other friends urged him to give up his dream of reviving the 
Genius and settle to a less dangerous occupation. He could 
not possibly win the libel suit, they argued, so why not admit 
failure and come home? Their proposals fell on deaf ears 
in July, after scouring the town in vain for new evidence, he 
was back in Baltimore awaiting the trial. 

During this flying trip to New England he toyed with the 
idea of establishing his own newspaper. Working for Lundy 
cramped his form what he wanted was a paper whose 
editorial policy would be his alone. One evening in August he 
sat down at his desk in the boardinghouse and put his thoughts 
on paper. Since his primary object would be the abolition of 
slavery, Washington seemed the obvious place to establish 
the paper, for there he could examine slavery from every 
angle. "In its investigation, I shall use great plainness of 
speech" he paused to underscore the phrase, "believing that 
truth can never conduce to mischief and is best discovered by 
plain words"* 

So pleased was he with his prospectus that he made several 
copies, one of which he mailed to Arthur Tappan, who sent 
back a favorable reply and a check. Thus began a relation- 
ship which, despite Tappan's growing misgivings as to Garri- 
son's competence, helped support the Liberator and its editor 
through the first years of a troubled career. 


In August, Garrison found that Todd's suit had been post- 
poned and Lundy had given up hope of reviving the Genius, 
a decision which concerned him less now that he had his own 
paper to consider. While awaiting release from jail he had 
written three lengthy exposes of colonization, and these he 
now decided to deliver on a lecture tour throughout the 
Northeast to raise funds for the Liberator. After failing to 
find a hall in Baltimore he said good-by to Lundy and started 
for Philadelphia and a meeting with a second group of 
abolitionists who would soon form an outpost of "Garrison- 
ism" in the City of Brotherly Love. 

In 1830 the anti-slavery center of the Philadelphia Friends 
was the home of James and Lucretia Mott in South Fourth 
Street. Lucretia was a heavy-featured woman with a gentle 
mouth and deep-set gray eyes that masked her enormous 
energy and strong will At school in Poughkeepsie she had 
met James Mott, a tall, shy, excessively grave young man who 
taught the boys' classes; and in 1811, when she was nineteen 
and he twenty-three, they married and settled in Philadelphia, 
where Mott entered a cotton commission house. Their first 
experience with slavery came in 1815, when a South Carolina 
planter willed his slaves to the Philadelphia Meeting to be 
manumitted, a request which James recognized as involving 
"considerations of no small magnitude to civil society." Three 
years later Lucretia accompanied the Quaker preacher Sarah 
Zane on a tour of Virginia, where the sight of slave coffles 
shuffling through Harpers Ferry affected her much as a 
similar view had startled Benjamin Lundy. Prodded by her 
conscience, she began to examine the free produce movement 
and soon concluded that it was her duty to boycott all prod- 
ucts made by slave labor. Henceforth the groceries in the 
Mott household came from Lydia White's Requited Labor 
Grocery and Dry-Goods Store, although James continued to 


accept commissions for slave cotton. Their family ate only 
free rice and free sugar and wore clothes made from free 
cotton. Even their candies were a free sweets" stamped with 
anti-slavery couplets: 

If slavery comes by color, which God gave, 
Fashion may change, and you become the slave. 

After struggling with his conscience for five years James 
abandoned the cotton for the wool business, a decision, Lucre- 
tia admitted, that made them "happy in the final freedom" 
though "quite unsettled with regard to the future." 

In 1828, just as Lucretia was beginning to take a more 
active part in Quaker affairs, Elias Hicks split the Society of 
Friends in America into two warring factions. As a Quietist, 
Hicks objected to the growing worldliness of the Quakers 
and their eagerness to cooperate with other churches in 
promoting Bible and missionary societies. Especially did he 
disapprove of the increased institutionalizing of Quakerism, 
the excessive use of Quaker forms of speech and behavior, the 
arbitrary power of the elders, and the infiltration of "evan- . 
gelical" beliefs in the Bible as the word of God. Not all the 
books ever written, he told his followers, could communicate 
God to His children, who needed only the guidance of the 
Inner Light. 7 

The Motts joined the Hicksites because they too disliked 
"oppressive authority" and sought a practical Christianity. 
Lucretia particularly deprecated controversy over creedal 
differences and held that the "gloomy dogmas of the schools" 
mattered less than the heavenly light within. "Men are to be 
judged by their likeness to Christ rather than by their notions 
of Christ," she announced in one of her sermons not long 
before she met Garrison, She was even more critical of 
dictatorial practices among the elders that kept men and 


women from thinking for themselves. "The veneration of 
believers," she complained, "has been strengthened by their 
not being allowed to think." 8 She worried lest the fear of being 
called an infidel keep too many Friends from striking out on 
their own in reforming the world. "I care not for charges of 
verbal infidelity; the infidelity I should dread, is to be faith- 
less to the right, to moral principle, to the divine impulses of 
the soul, to a confidence in the possible realization of the 
millennium now." The millennium now here was the key 
to the Motts' faith and the goal of their practical Christianity. 

At first the Motts' religious liberalism shocked Garrison, 
who still prided himself on his orthodoxy. Gradually, how- 
ever, as their friendship deepened, he was won over by their 
tolerance and simplicity. Looking back at their first meeting 
from the height of his career, he admitted that their friendship 
had been a decisive influence in his life. "Though I was 
strongly sectarian in my religious sentiments (Calvinist) at 
that time, and hence uncharitable in judgment touching theo- 
logical differences of opinion . . . yet they manifested a most 
kind, tolerant, catholic spirit, and allowed none of these 
considerations to deter them from giving me their cordial 
approbation and cheering countenance as an advocate of the 
slave. If my mind has since become liberalized in any degree, 
(and I think it has burst every sectarian trammel,) if theo- 
logical dogmas which I once regarded as essential to Christian- 
ity, I now repudiate as absurd and pernicious I am largely 
indebted to them for the change."* 

A lecture hall and an audience willing to hear a tirade 
against colonization proved hard to find in Philadelphia in 
1830. After importuning nearly every church leader ia the 
city, Garrison was about to leave for New York in despair 
when he was finally given the Franklin Institute for three 
successive nights beginning on August 31. The small audience 


composed of the Motts and their Quaker circle of Shipleys, 
Pughs, and Davises and a handful of free colored people 
listened attentively if not with entire approval to his im- 
peachment of the Colonization Society. Even Lucretia thought 
his speech somewhat severe, although she could not help 
agreeing that his principles were correct. She and her husband 
invited him to their home, where spirited and earnest con- 
versation soon thawed the young lecturer's reserve. They 
talked of Lundy and his work, and Lucretia inquired about his 
own plans, the state of anti-slavery opinion in New England, 
and his hopes for the Liberator. He left Philadelphia in 
buoyant spirits, assured of the interest of many of the Quakers 
there and anxious now to test the doctrine of immediate eman- 
cipation in Boston. 

Garrison's doctrine of immediate emancipation was an im- 
port from England. In May, 1830, while he still sat in his 
Baltimore cell planning his strategy, across the Atlantic, in 
London, there occurred an event that marked the turning 
point in the history of anti-slavery. On May 15 English 
abolitionists, members of the Anti-Slavery Society, met in 
Exeter Hall for their annual convention. With the diminutive 
William Wilberforce, now at seventy-one ill and shrunken, 
presiding on a platform filled with elder statesmen in the 
cause, his proteg6 Thomas Fowell Buxton rose ponderously to 
offer a resolution calling for the abolition of slavery through- 
out the Empire "at the earliest possible period." Buxton's 
carefully worded resolution was backed by the authority of 
the veterans Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay, Thomas Clark- 
son and James Stephen, men who knew the wisdom of 
moderation and had practiced it for forty years in their cam- 
paign against the West Indian planters. By 1830, however, 
the leadership of the abolitionist party outside Parliament had 
fallen into the hands of younger men with less patience and 


more militancy. Before the May meeting they had agreed to 
demand immediate emancipation as the sole remedy for 
slavery. To the consternation of the Old Guard they amended 
Buxton's resolution to provide for immediate action and the 
formation of an Agency Committee to convert all England. 

Following up their unexpected success, the advocates of 
immediate emancipation decided to go straight to the country 
without waiting for elections to provide them with a more 
tractable ministry. The success of their agents was astound- 
ing: in twelve months' time the number of anti-slavery 
societies rocketed from two hundred to thirteen hundred, and 
petitions with hundreds of thousands of signatures flooded 
Westminster. Their new techniques the lecture, pamphlet, 
handbill and poster gave English abolition a momentum 
which it never lost. In 1832 Parliament passed the long-over- 
due Reform Bill, and in April of the next year, when three 
hundred delegates marched in a body to present an address to 
the Prime Minister, the government realized that thanks to the 
Agency Committee the delegates spoke the demands of the 
majority of Englishmen. Before such strength it could only 
bow by passing the West India Emancipation Act on August 
29, 1833. 

Garrison was impressed with the English indictment of 
the West Indian planters and with the emphasis on slavery as a 
sin. If Clarkson and Wilberforce, the wisest and best men of 
their age, agreed on immediate emancipation as the only hope, 
then Americans had best accept it as the terms of divine 

In his belief that the British anti-slavery model was ex- 
portable Garrison was wrong on two counts. In the first place, 
the power of Parliament to legislate for the colonies far sur- 
passed congressional authority over the states. The English 
abolitionists demanded that Parliament put a definite terminus 


to slavery by legislative fiat this was all that "immediate 
emancipation" really meant. Nothing like a general law 
abolishing slavery in the South could be expected from Con- 
gress. Little as he knew of constitutional law, Garrison ad- 
mitted that Congress had no power to regulate slavery in the 
states, and this hard fact should have prevented him from 
making any such easy assumptions as his British friends might 

The second factor which Garrison overlooked in his haste 
to copy British methods was the obvious prestige of the anti- 
slavery movement in England. When it was formed in 1823 
the Anti-Slavery Society boasted a royal duke for its presi- 
dent, five peers and fourteen members of Parliament for vice- 
presidents. Where were the likes of these to be found in 

Yet for all his ignorance of the actual machinery of British 
anti-slavery, Garrison rightly sensed an affinity stemming 
from the religious dedication common to Englishmen and 
Americans. The soul of abolition in England was Evangelical- 
ism, the religion of the Clapham Sect of "Saints," as they were 
called because of their piety and high seriousness, their air of 
self-condemnation and their accent on Christian conduct. 
Evangelicalism in England, unlike the more diffuse religious 
sentiment in America, was a movement, and the Clapham Sect 
a distinct set of people who shared the same belief in the 
power of the regenerated will to shape society to its own 

Evangelicalism was thus a practical religion, and the Clap- 
hamites, like the Tappans and Motts, were practical people. 
The Saints, whose solid town houses ringed Clapham Com- 
mon, were men of the world who enjoyed the amenities of life 
and knew the value of money as a power for good. Theirs 
was no closed sainthood they practiced no initiatory rites, 


professed no rigid code. Unable to ignore worldly opinion, 
they were nonetheless happiest in their own community of 
shared values, admonishing one another in plain language and 
organizing projects for improving society, chief among them 
the abolition of slavery. Theirs were feelings which Garrison 
could understand, a sense of consecration overriding all 
doubts, a moral rather than mystical faith in divine purpose, 
the kind of assurance that had sustained his mother through 
the dark days of her marriage and driven him to take up the 
cause of the slave. In the spirit of English Evangelicalism he 
set out to organize American abolitionists and form a Clapham 
Sect of his own. 

On October 12, 1831, the Boston Courier printed this 

WANTED. -For three evenings, a Hall or Meet- 
inghouse (the latter would be preferred), in which 
to vindicate the rights of TWO MILLION of 
American citizens who are now groaning in servile 
chains in the boasted land of liberty; and also to 
propose just, benevolent, and constitutional mea- 
sures for their relief. As the addresses will be gra- 
tuitous and as the cause is of public benefit, I cannot 
consent to remunerate any society for the use of its 
building. If this application fails, I propose to ad- 
dress the citizens of Boston in the open, on the 

No. 30 Federal Street, Oct. 11, 1830 

It was not a church or religious society that answered his 
appeal but Abner Kneeland's group of freethinkers who of- 
fered their rooms in Julien Hall. Accordingly on Friday 
evening, October 15, he rose before a "small but select 
audience" of "the virtuous and high minded portion of the 


community" (already favorite Garrisonian phrases) to deliver 
what was perhaps the most important speech of his life. Ly- 
man Beecher was there, all smiles and benevolence, and so was 
John Tappan, the hardheaded brother of Arthur and Lewis. 
Samuel Joseph May, the Unitarian minister who had at- 
tended Lundy's meeting at Collier's two years earlier, brought 
along his cousin Samuel Sewall and his brother-in-law Bron- 
son Alcott. 

Garrison began his talk by thanking Kneeland's "infidels" 
for the use of their hall It was indicative of the depths to 
which the New England conscience had descended that he 
was forced to accept the charity of the very men whose 
atheistic opinions he had censured in the pages of the National 
Philanthropist. Abolition properly belonged to the churches, 
and if they refused to act, they must be purified by true 
Christians, Slaveowners were not and never could be Chris- 
tians "God, and the angels, and the devil, and the universe 
know that they are without excuse." He charged coloniza- 
tionists with playing a cruel joke on an unsuspecting public. 
He himself had been their dupe until he discovered their dia- 
bolical purpose, but now duty demanded that he denounce 
their plot. Were statistics needed to prove the futility of 
colonization, or quotations to confirm the cunning of its 
leaders? If so, here they were in abundance. . . , 

His speech was a masterpiece of destructive argument. 
When he finished May and Sewall knew that they had been 
called to a holy war. After the lecture Beecher, Alcott, May 
and Sewall approached the platform, and their reactions to 
Garrison were as varied as their personalities. Beecher seemed 
visibly disturbed. Once before he had been approached by 
this brash young man who wanted to convert him to abolition, 
and he had put him off by saying that he already had too 
many irons in the fire. "Then you had better let all your irons 


burn rather than neglect your duty to the slave," Garrison 
had retorted. But this evening Beecher was upset by the ardor 
with which Garrison argued his dangerous ideas. "Your zeal 
is commendable," he told him, "but you are misguided." If he 
would only forget his fanatical ideas, Beecher said, he could 
make him the Wilberforce of America. But Garrison only 
smiled his disagreement and turned to accept the congratula- 
tions of May and Sewall. For some time now he had doubted 
Beecher's conviction, and his remarks that evening only con- 
firmed the great man's lack of moral fiber. An idol had fallen. 

Far different were the responses of Sewall and May. The 
two Samuels shared more than progressive Unitarian homes 
and a Harvard education. They were kindred souls who cared 
less for polity and forms of worship than for diffusing a non- 
denominational faith based on the idea of moral self -improve- 
ment. They were ready for abolition just as Garrison was 
ready for the affection and good sense they offered. "That is 
a providential man!" May remembered telling his cousin. He 
told Garrison that though he could hardly endorse all of his 
views, he was convinced that his was a divine calling. Alcott 
invited them to his home, where they sat till long past mid- 
night listening to the endless flow of Garrison's arguments. 
"That night," May admitted, "my soul was baptised in his 
spirit, and ever since I have been a disciple and fellow-laborer 
of William Lloyd Garrison." 10 

Both May and Sewall remonstrated with Garrison for his 
violent and abusive language. They disliked his journalistic 
slang and his habit of calling slaveholders thieves and robbers 
and accusing everyone who disagreed with him of willful 
blindness. May tried to warn him of the dangers of excessive 
heat: "Oh, my friend," he entreated, "do try to moderate 
your indignation, and keep more cool! why, you are all on 
fire!" "Brother May," Garrison snapped, "I have need to be 


all on fire, for I have mountains of ice about me to melt." 11 
The cousins continued to hope that somehow they might 
channel Garrison's godly energy. In this they were mistaken. 

His decision to publish the Liberator in Boston did not 
come immediately, but after audiences in New Haven, Hart- 
ford and Newburyport spurned his lectures on colonization 
he decided that there was a greater need for a revolution in 
public opinion in the North "and particularly in Neiv 
England" than in the South. Printing an unpopular news- 
paper in a strange and hostile city was more than even he 
could contemplate. Let Lundy attend to Washington. In 
Boston he had a reputation that he could turn to good account 
in getting credit and patronage. Isaac Knapp, who had come 
north with him, agreed to a partnership, and Sewall and May 
promised to find subscribers. Thus his seemingly bold resolve 
to launch the paper "within the sight of Bunker Hill and the 
birthplace of Liberty." 12 

He had difficulty naming his paper. Sewall thought the 
Liberator altogether too provocative a title and suggested the 
Safety Lamp, but Garrison would not agree. The actual 
printing of the paper proved to be the worst of their troubles, 
since they had neither a press nor the means to buy one. They 
solved the problem temporarily by inducing their friend 
Stephen Symonds Foster, the foreman of the Christian Ex- 
aminer, to lend them his type in exchange for a day's work 
at his press. The first three numbers of the Liberator were 
printed with type hurriedly set in the middle of the night 
and returned the next day. For his fourth number Garrison 
succeeded in locating a lot of secondhand type and a small 
hand press. 

On Saturday morning, January i, 1831, four hundred 
copies of the Liberator carried Garrison's declaration of 
principles to the Boston public. His famous manifesto, squeezed 


into four closely printed columns, sat askew on a front page 
measuring exactly fourteen by nine and a quarter inches. "I 
am aware that many object to the severity of my language," 
he wrote in a pointed allusion to the strictures of May and 
Sewall, "but is there not cause for severity?" 

/ will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On 
this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with 
moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give 
a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from 
the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate 
her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me 
not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest 
I will not equivocate I will not excuse I will not retreat a 
single inch AND i WILL BE HEARD. 

The words if not their spirit were new. He had said the 
same thing before and would repeat it countless times again. 
But he never succeeded in saying it as well. 

Fanning the Flames 

THE OFFICE OF the Liberator was located in Merchants 
Hall, first in No. 6, and then after a few weeks in No. 10 
under the eaves. It was a small dingy room with tiny, ink- 
spattered windows. In one corner stood the press opposite the 
battered composing desk; in the center of the room a long 
roughhewn mailing table littered with copy ran from wall to 
wall and next to it Garrison's bed for visitors to step around. 
In this room the editor worked sixteen hours every day but 
Sunday, setting type, running off copy, compiling mailing 
lists, answering letters with painstaking deliberation, and as 
midnight approached dashing off the editorials that soon made 
him notorious. The partners lived chiefly on water and stale 
bread from a nearby bakery. In February they took on a 
colored apprentice to help with the manual work. 

Visitors were welcome at No. 10 Merchants Hall, and 
they began coming in increasing numbers, some out of sheer 
curiosity, but more with real interest and the desire to help. 
May and Sewall were frequent callers and so was Arnold 
Buffum, the taciturn Quaker hatter from Rhode Island. Here 
too came Ellis Gray Loring, the proper Bostonian lawyer; 
David Lee Child, the liberal Unitarian editor who remembered 
Garrison from the days of the National Philanthopist; and 
Amos Phelps, the energetic Congregational minister, first an 


admirer and then a bitter enemy of the Liberator. Oliver 
Johnson, a devout young evangelical who used the Liberator 
type to print his fly-by-night Christian Soldier, often wan- 
dered in, drawn by Garrison's apostolic manner. To Johnson 
the editor seemed a divinely inspired leader; and in the years 
to come he served his master as chore-boy, loyal and unques- 
tioning for thirty-five years, his carbon-copy mind reproduc- 
ing faithfully the Garrisonian gospel. 

Here in No. 10 his visitors would sit dispersed about the 
crowded and stuffy room listening to Garrison, who sat tipped 
back in his editorial chair, stroking a stray cat in his lap and 
pausing in the midst of his endless monologue to wipe an ink- 
stained hand across his balding head. He thrived on the interest 
and admiration of these new friends with whom he talked 
simply and candidly. The contrast between the incendiary 
editor of their imagination and the mild, gentle-humored man 
behind the desk disconcerted more than one of his visitors. 
Instead of a dark-visaged desperado "something like a pi- 
rate" they found a scholarly-looking gentleman. Nothing 
pleased the twenty-six-year-old editor more than to be de- 
scribed as a man of tender sensibilities and courtly manners. 

So demanding was the manual work of printing the 
Liberator that Garrison hardly found time for composition. 
"My worthy partner and I complete the mechanical part," 
he explained to May in apologizing for some editorials he 
regarded as slipshod, "that is to say, we compose and dis- 
tribute, on every number, one hundred thousand types, besides 
performing the presswork, mailing the papers to subscribers 
&c., &C." 1 The editorial fraternity may have received the 
Liberator "with acclamation" as he joyfully reported to May, 
but the public, which knew the paper chiefly through the 
reputation of its editor, greeted it with apathy and then with 
downright hostility. 


In an age of mass communication it is difficult to under- 
stand how the Liberator acquired the reputation it did. It 
is a mistake to imagine smudged copies clandestinely passed 
from hand to hand on the Charleston waterfront and in the 
back streets of Richmond, or even widely read among North- 
ern reformers. At the end of its first year, the Liberator had 
gained only fifty white subscribers, and two years later they 
numbered less than four hundred. Garrison enjoyed the dis- 
tinction unique among editors throughout the country of ad- 
dressing his message to white philanthropists and his appeals 
for funds to the free Negroes. By his own admission the 
Liberator belonged not to the whites "they do not sustain 
it" but "emphatically to the people of color it is their 
organ." 2 Its chief source of revenue in its first difficult year 
was the pathetic contributions from the underprivileged 
colored communities in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. 
Garrison announced that his paper had acted on the free 
Negroes "like a trumpet call." By the middle of February he 
had ninety new subscriptions from Philadelphia and over 
thirty from New York. "This then," he wrote to May, "is 
my consolation: if I cannot do much, in this quarter, toward 
abolishing slavery, I may be able to elevate our free colored 
population in the scale of Society." But already rumblings 
in the South indicated that the Liberator was destined for 
a greater role than this. 

The secret of Garrison's rapid ascent to notoriety lay in his 
ingenious use of his list of exchanges, which numbered over 
a hundred periodicals at the end of the first year. These he 
manipulated skillfully to set off chain reactions of public 
opinion. Southern editors received the Liberator, found it 
highly offensive, and quoted it to show their readers the 
lengths to which diabolical Yankees were prepared to go in 
stripping the South of her birthright. Next, Northern editors, 


neutral or openly hostile to abolition but sensing good copy 
here, reprinted the Southern editorials and added comments 
of their own. Then both the original editorial and the com- 
mentary appeared in the Liberator together with more Garri- 
sonian invective, and the process began all over again. In 
September, 1831, for example, Garrison proclaimed his undy- 
ing friendship for Southern planters in these words: "I would 
not, wittingly, harm a hair on their heads, nor injure them 
in their lawful property. I am not their enemy, but their 
friend. It is true, I abhor their oppressive acts; nor will I 
cease to denounce them in terms of indignation. They will 
surely be destroyed if they do not repent. MEN MUST BE 
FREE/' 3 When the volatile editor of the Tarboro', South 
Carolina, Free Press read this, his righteous anger boiled over 
and he replied with the charge that Garrison was employing 
"secret agents" in the Palmetto State to incite a slave rebellion, 
and suggested, further, that all such traitors apprehended by 
loyal sons of the South should be roasted alive. Gales and 
Seaton's National Intelligencer picked up the Tarboro' edi- 
tor's rabble-rousing and printed it with an editorial warning 
Garrison against "poisoning the waters of life" of the whole 
American community. "We know nothing of the man," the 
editors admitted, "we desire not to have him unlawfully dealt 
with: we can even conceive of his motive being good in his 
own opinion," but Bostonians who love the Union must inter- 
vene to "vindicate the cause of humanity, as it is outraged by 
the publication to which we refer." All of which appeared in 
the Liberator a few weeks later as proof of "Southern mendac- 
ity and folly." "My contempt of it is unutterable," Garrison 
remarked. "Nothing but my own death, or want of patronage, 
shall stop the Liberator" 

Angry letters piled up on the mailing table. He answered 
as many of them as he could, patiently explaining his terms 



of opprobrium but refusing to alter his style. Publicly he 
announced, "My language is exactly such as suits me; it will 
displease many, I know to displease them is my intention." 
Further advice would be considered intrusive. "I do not want 
it. I want more leisure from manual labor, in order to do 
justice to the cause I want a larger periodical that will 
enable me and my correspondents to appear before the public 
without crowding each other." 4 Still the letters filled with 

fear and contempt kept coming. "You d d scoundrel. Hell 

is gaping for you! the devil is feasting in anticipation." A 
Washington slaveholder wrote, "Your paper cannot much 
longer be tolerated. . . . Shame on the Freemen of Boston 
for permitting such a vehicle of outrage and rebellion to spring 
into existence among them." 5 Such complaints simply added 
fuel to the fire of Garrison's incendiary glee. "Foes are on 
my right hand and on my left," ran one self-congratulatory 
editorial "The tongue of detraction is busy against me. I have 
no communion with the world the world none with me." 6 
Privately he confided to Henry Benson, a new agent for the 
Liberator in Providence and his future brother-in-law, that 
he was vastly pleased that "the disturbances at the South still 
continue. The slaveholders are evidently given over to de- 
struction. They are determined to shut out the light to 
hear none of the appeals of justice and humanity. I shudder 
when I contemplate their fate." 7 

Critics of the Liberator accused it of inciting violence. It 
was one thing, they declared, to protest pacific intentions, but 
what were readers to make of verses like the following that 
appeared immediately beside the editor's disavowal of force? 

Though distant to be the hour, yet come it must 
Oh! hasten it, in mercy, righteous Heaven! 

When Afric's sons, uprising from the dust, 
Shall stand erect their galling fetters riven . . . 


Wo if it come with storm, and blood and fire, 
When midnight darkness veils the earth and sky! 

Wo to the innocent babe the guilty sire 
Stranger and Citizen alike shall die! 

Red-handed Slaughter his revenge shall feed, 
And Havoc yell his ominous death-cry, 

And wild Despair in vain for mercy plead 

While Hell itself shall shrink, and sicken at the deed! 8 

Suddenly, in August, 1831, came Nat Turner's Rebellion in 
Southampton County, Virginia, as if to give the lie to Garri- 
son's irenic declarations. A month later the Liberator was on 
trial for its life. 

On August 21, 1831, a band of slaves variously estimated 
between fifty and seventy in number marched through South- 
ampton County killing and looting. Their leader was Nat 
Turner, a thirty-one-year-old fanatic who believed himself 
divinely commissioned to free his fellow slaves and who had 
been plotting this uprising with the help of heavenly voices 
for some time. When the sign came he fell into a trance but 
recovered in time to begin butchering every white man in 
Virginia. His army of the Lord was easily routed, though not 
before he and his followers had killed sixty-one whites. Tur- 
ner was hanged along with all of his confederates, and an 
aftermath of reprisals began in which over a hundred Negroes 
were killed, many of them after inhuman torture. 

In the midst of this six-month reign of terror many South- 
erners were forcibly reminded of another black prophet, 
David Walker, whose Appeal calling on the slaves to revolt 
had been published in Boston less than two years before. 
David Walker was a free Negro of almost legendary fame and 
one of the first heroes of the anti-slavery movement The son 
of a slave father and a free mother in Wilmington, North 
Carolina, he had wandered all over the South for years before 


settling in Boston, where he opened a secondhand clothes 
shop. In September, 1829, just as Lundy and Garrison were 
organizing their joint enterprise, Walker published his pam- 
phlet, Appeal in Four Articles Together with a Preamble to 
the Colored Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and 
Very Expressly, to those of the United States of America, 
an extraordinary piece of malevolence based on a belief in the 
superiority of the black race. In the course of his travels 
Walker had acquired a rudimentary education that somehow 
accounted for his crude cyclical philosophy of history in 
which God regularly intervened on the side of downtrodden 
races. In his role of prophet he foresaw a war of extermination 
that would kill off the whites "like rattlesnakes." "Let twelve 
good black men get armed for battle and they will kill and put 
to flight fifty whites. Get the blacks started, and if you don't 
have a gang of tigers and lions to deal with, then I am a 
deceiver of the blacks and of the whites. If you commence 
make sure work of it: don't trifle, for they will not trifle with 
you. KiH or be killed." 9 

Walker's Appeal went through three editions in six months, 
each more bloodthirsty than the last. Just before his death 
in 1830 under mysterious circumstances, he visited Richmond, 
Virginia, where he circulated thirty copies of his pamphlet, 
only twenty of which were recovered when he was arrested. 
Thus, when the black prophet Nat Turner attacked his white 
masters a year later, it seemed to many a Virginian that the 
blood bath was the result of Walker's devilish Appeal 

Garrison emphatically condemned both the Appeal and 
Turner's hair-raising conspiracy. Yet his attitude toward vio- 
lence, indeed, his allegiance to the peace cause remained 
curiously ambiguous. Reviewing the Appeal for readers of 
the Genius, he had criticized it as "a most injudicious publi- 
cation" while admitting that its incitement to violence was 


" warranted by the creed of an independent people." Although 
he "deprecated its circulation," he was forced to admire its 
"impassioned and determined spirit" and "the bravery and 
intelligence" of its author. 10 When Southern editors clamored 
for his punishment as an apologist for the Southampton revolt, 
Garrison was correct in replying that he had never preached 
anything to the slaves but submission. Yet his disavowal of 
violence was something less than unequivocal. A month after 
the revolt, he wrote, "Ljlojiotjj^ 

bellioniji^ similar 

<5onduct in white men. I deny the right of any people to fight 
foFli^ a Quaker in principles. Of all men 

living, however, our slaves have the best reason to assert their 
rights by violent measures, inasmuch as they are more op- 
pressed than others. "^^hirty years later he would soon dis- 
pose of the incident at Harpers Ferry in nearly identical 
terms. Then it appeared to many Southerners, just as it did 
to the Virginia legislature in the aftermath of Nat Turner's 
revolt, that the editor of the Liberator was not the man of 
peace he pretended to be. They saw only a misguided fanatic 
who called slaveowners "beasts" and "criminals" and de- 
nounced their measures as "atrocities." They proposed to 
deal with him accordingly. 

In October the city of Georgetown in the District of 
Columbia passed an ordinance prohibiting free Negroes from 
receiving the Liberator. Then a vigilance committee in Colum- 
bia, South Carolina, offered a reward for the apprehension 
of any person caught circulating Garrison's paper or Walker's 
Appeal Town meetings in Bethesda, Maryland, and Savannah, 
Georgia, voted similar measures. The Grand Jury of Raleigh, 
North Carolina, found a true bill against Garrison and Knapp 
for distributing their paper in the county contrary to the 
kws of the state. In December, Governor James Hamilton of 


South Carolina forwarded to the legislature a special mes- 
sage together with copies of the Liberator and Garrison's 
speech to the Free People of Color delivered the previous 
June in Philadelphia. In his message Hamilton referred to a 
letter from the governor of Virginia which he said "leaves no 
doubt that the spirit of insubordination in that State was 
excited by the incendiary newspapers and other publications, 
put forth in the nonslaveholding States, and freely circulated 
within the limits of Virginia." At Hamilton's suggestion, South 
Carolina's Senator Robert Y. Hayne wrote a letter of protest 
to his old colleague Harrison Gray Otis, now mayor of 
Boston, asking what measures might be taken to suppress the 
Liberator immediately. Only after making several inquiries 
could Otis unearth enough information to allay his suspicions. 
"I am told," he reported to Hayne, "that it is supported 
chiefly by the free colored people; that the number of sub- 
scribers in Baltimore and Washington exceeds that of those in 
this city, and that it is gratuitously left at one or two of the 
reading rooms in this place." As far as he could ascertain, Otis 
said, the editor was a disgruntled ne'er-do-well who had lived 
for a while in Baltimore, "where his feelings have been 
exasperated by some occurrences consequent to his publica- 
tions there." Atrocious and detestable as his sentiments were, 
his newspaper had yet to stir even a teapot tempest and was 
not likely to win converts among the more respectable classes 
of Boston. It would be hasty and imprudent, Otis concluded, 
to take any immediate action. 12 

Nevertheless, he dispatched police officers to No. 10 Mer- 
chants Hall to establish the truth of Hayne's complaint that 
Garrison regularly supplied him with the Liberator. The visit 
proved to be just what the editor wanted a chance to 
defend the freedom of the press. 


The Hon. Robert Y. Hayne, of Columbia, S.C. (through the 
medium of a letter), wishes to know of the Mayor of Boston 
who sent a number of the Liberator to him, a few weeks ago? 
The Mayor of Boston (through the medium of a deputy) wishes 
to know of Mr. Garrison whether he sent the aforesaid number 
to the aforesaid individual? Mr. Garrison (through the medium 
of his paper) wishes to know of the Hon. Robert Y. Haync, of 
Columbia, S.C., and the Mayor of Boston, what authority they 
have to put such questions? 13 

He never received an answer. 

In November came the strongest protest yet against the 
Liberator ~~ &n open invitation to kidnapping. The upper 
house of the Georgia legislature passed a resolution providing 
"that the sum of five thousand dollars be, and the same is 
hereby appropriated to be paid to any person or persons who 
shall arrest, bring to trial and prosecute to conviction, under 
the laws of this State the editor or publisher of a certain paper 
called the Liberator" 1 * Secretly pleased with the welcome 
publicity, Garrison professed himself shocked at this "mon- 
strous proposition." *" 

Where is the liberty of the press and of speech? where the spirit 
of our fathers? where the immunities secured to us by our Bill 
of Rights? Is it treason to maintain the principles of the Declara- 
tion of Independence? Must we say that slavery is a sacred and 
benevolent institution, or be silent? - Know this, ye Senatorial 
Patrons of kidnappers! . . . The Liberator shall yet live - live to 
warn you of your danger and guilt live to plead for the perish- 
ing slave live to hail the day of universal emancipation, 15 

To Henry Benson he wrote of the "perilous times" ahead 
for the Liberator and the Negroes. "So infuriated are the 
whites against them since the Virginia and North Carolina in- 
surrection that the most trifling causes may lead to a war of 
extermination." 16 


These prophecies seemed premature and even ludicrous in 
1831. Not for another five years would Southern statesmen in 
league with Northern business interests mount a full-scale 
counterattack on abolition. If his bid for recognition as the 
leader of American anti-slavery led Garrison intentionally to 
overestimate the dangers to the Liberator, his analysis of the 
issues nevertheless proved correct. The events of the next 
decade would show that the defenders of slavery were bent 
on destroying abolition even if it meant the annihilation of 
American civil liberties. By standing on their constitutional 
rights, Garrison, James G. Birney, Theodore Weld, Elijah 
Lovejoy and the other "martyrs" of the anti-slavery move- 
ment had largely won this fight by 1 840. In attaching to their 
cause the rights of free speech, free press, and free assembly 
they won over to their side new recruits who were less con- 
cerned with slavery as a. sin than with the loss of basic free- 
doms, and who gradually came to see in the struggle between 
the anti-slavery and the slavery forces the choice between an 
open society with its free intellectual market and a closed 
community afraid of ideas. Then, as in its first year, the 
Liberator upheld its editor's belief that "the triumph of truth 
is as sure as the light of heaven." 

Not Southern opposition alone but a lack of patronage 
threatened the life of the Liberator in its first year. Garrison 
organized groups of free Negroes in Boston and lectured in 
Providence, New York and Philadelphia to raise money for 
his paper; but he knew that it could not survive indefinitely on 
these slender contributions. Desperately he called for "a con- 
centration of moral strength" in Boston, an anti-slavery 
society to save the Liberator His call was soon heeded. 

On Sunday afternoon, November 13, 1831, fifteen men met 
in the offices of Samuel Sewall in State Street to hear Garrison 
expound on the need for a New England anti-slavery society. 


He had announced in advance that if the apostolic number of 
twelve could be found in agreement on principles, they would 
form a society forthwith. Now he spoke long and earnestly 
on the merits of the British anti-slavery model and the virtues 
of immediate emancipation. When it came time to vote, how- 
ever, only nine of the group could bring themselves to agree 
with the editor; six others, including Sewall, Loring and 
Child, feared the repercussions in Boston society of such 
radical doctrine. The meeting ended without any action on 
Garrison's project. 

A month later he tried again, this time with only nine 
disciples Sewall, Loring, Child, Knapp, Johnson, and four 
others. A committee headed by Garrison was appointed to 
draft a constitution which was to be reported at the first 
general meeting of the new society on January i, 1832. The 
Liberator gave an account of these proceedings and issued 
an immediate call for membership. At the meeting on the 
first day of the new year Garrison's constitution was adopted 
with only a few minor alterations. New recruits appeared 
at this meeting, among them Dr. Gamaliel Bradford, soon to 
be made superintendent of the Massachusetts General Hos- 
pital, and the Reverend Abijah Blanchard, an anti-Masonic 
editor of local fame. The question of a preamble to the consti- 
tution was postponed for a second meeting a week later at 
the African Baptist Church in Belknap Street in the heart of 
Boston's "Nigger Hill." The preamble bore the Garrisonian 
stamp and provoked strong disagreement. After prolonged 
debate in which Sewall, Loring and Child objected strenu- 
ously to the language of the preamble and the principles of 
the majority, the constitution was signed by Garrison and 
eleven others, none of whom, it was observed, could have put 
a hundred dollars into the treasury without bankrupting 
themselves. The opposition of his three friends did not pre- 


vent Garrison from indulging in the histrionics he so enjoyed. 
"We have met tonight in this obscure school-house," he told 
the gathering, "our members are few and our influence 
limited; but, mark my prediction, Faneuil Hall shall ere long 
echo with the principles we have set forth. We shall shake 
the Nation by their mighty power." 18 

The New England Anti-Slavery Society elected as its first 
president Arnold Buff um, the Quaker hatter from Providence. 
Garrison was appointed corresponding secretary, an arrange- 
ment that satisfied both Garrison, who wanted to be free to 
edit his paper, and the members, who feared that his radical 
ideas might prejudice their organization in the eyes of New 
Englanders. Buffum supplied the driving force of the society 
in its first year. The son of a farmer in Smithfield, Rhode Is- 
land, he was a self-educated man, an amateur inventor and 
educational reformer as well as a stanch abolitionist. Not 
long before the formation of the society he had returned from 
England, where he discussed slavery with Clarkson and 
educational theory with leading Quakers whose system of 
"infant schools" he was anxious to try out in this country. 
Garrison's call found him already active in Quaker circles 
preaching emancipation and Elias Hicks's free-produce ideas. 
Buffum and the faithful Oliver Johnson immediately took to 
the field as agents of the society, traveling throughout south- 
ern New England, organizing local societies, challenging 
colonizationists, and defending Garrison and the Liberator 
from charges of fanaticism. Meetings of the society were held 
on the last Monday of each month, and standing committees 
were appointed to prepare petitions, improve conditions in 
Negro schools, and repeal the Massachusetts law preventing 
intermarriage of blacks and whites. The Liberator was de- 
clared the official organ of the society, a policy terminated to 
the satisfaction of all parties by the publication, of a new 


paper, the Abolitionist, at the end of the year. "Our little 
society is gradually expanding, and begins already to make a 
perceptible impression upon the public mind," Garrison wrote 
his friend Ebenezer Dole in June, 1832. "Scarcely has the 
good seed been buried in the earth, and yet even now it is 
sending up shoots in every direction." 19 

The "good seed" of New England abolitionism was its 
founder's belief that emancipation could be accomplished only 
by the moral rebirth of every American citizen. As the New 
England Anti-Slavery Society grew, it sprouted branches of 
"Garrisonism" in every direction. It was marked with many 
of the virtues and all of the deficiencies of its leader's per- 
sonality. In the first place, Garrison was not an organizer. 
Much as he admired the efficiency of the English abolitionists, 
he distrusted political maneuvering, particularly in large or- 
ganizations where power might be ranged against him. He was 
not above the tricks of manipulating blocs of votes himself, 
but he preferred open debate and the rough-and-tumble ex- 
change of opinions. He believed that right decisions re- 
sulted from the deliberation of enlightened individuals who 
instinctively arrived at a simple solution and proceeded to 
carry It out. He was further convinced that emancipation 
would become a reality only when a majority of Americans 
had been converted in free and open discussion. Thus he 
saw his society simply as a forum for individuals to bear 
their testimony against slavery. 

The New England Society grew into just this kind of 
organization. Visitors at its annual meetings who were ac- 
customed to the orderly business procedure of more central- 
ized societies were shocked by the lack of system, the chaotic 
financial condition, and the general absence of direction in 
Garrison's society. They entirely mistook the dispositions and 
intentions of the delegates for whom the annual trek to Bos- 


ton was in the nature of a pilgrimage rather than a business 
meeting, and from which they returned refreshed with liter- 
ally hundreds of hours of talk. Eloquence was a penny a 
bushel at these meetings, it is true, but eloquence was what 
the members required. Along with Garrison they believed 
that "moral suasion" meant collecting one, two, or a half- 
dozen people and peppering them with arguments for im- 
mediate emancipation. Although the society printed and dis- 
tributed pamphlets and tracts, it was far less effective than the 
New York and the Western societies at this type of propa- 
ganda. Its forte was the spoken word it furnished the best 
of the anti-slavery orators and evangelists. Evangelism thrives 
on community spirit, and this the annual conclave of the 
New England abolitionists provided in abundance: two-hour 
speeches, endless motions, resolutions, amendments, and mara- 
thon personal testimonies of delegates each trying to outdo 
the others in depicting the horrors of slavery and the de- 
pravity of the planters. If it did nothing more, the annual 
meeting of the society furnished a release for pent-up emo- 
tions and sent members back to their homes prepared to dis- 
rupt church services, badger their neighbors, and wander the 
countryside in search of a martyrdom which was the aim of 
the society and its founder. 

While the new agents of the society opened their lecture 
tour early in the spring of 1832, Garrison returned to his 
paper and the unfinished campaign against colonization. 
"Every Monday evening an animated discussion is held in 
this city on the principles and tendencies of the American 
Colonization Society,' 1 he reported. "The friends of this 
pernicious combination, having no ground on which to stand, 
are routed in every debate." 20 These discussion groups ceased 
to satisfy him when he discovered that Boston's leading colo- 
nizationists refused to be drawn into debates with him, but 


following the example of their New England agent, the 
Reverend Joshua N. Danforth, went methodically about the 
city infiltrating the churches. Their obvious disdain irked 
Garrison. "Mr. Danforth and his coadjutors cannot be in- 
duced to defend their cause. They affect to belong to the 
'good society folks,' and therefore cannot stoop to the canaille. 
Miserable pride! It is destined to have a mighty fall." 21 

For some time now he had been weighing Tappan's sugges- 
tion that he write an anti-colonization tract. He sent for the 
files of the African Repository, the organ of the Colonization 
Society, and collected the reports of auxiliary societies, 
speeches by leading colonizationists and dispatches from the 
colony in Liberia. The longer he studied the society's meager 
achievements, the more important it seemed to tear off its 
mask of respectability. By April he had compiled an indict- 
ment that answered, and a month later Thoughts on African 
Colonization: or An Impartial Exhibition of the Doctrines, 
Principles and Purposes of the American Colonization Society 
was ready for the press. He was doubtful at first of his success 
in discrediting the society and claimed only that his pamphlet 
was "calculated to make a salutary impression." 22 When no 
effective rebuttal from the colonizationists appeared, however, 
he dropped his modest pose and announced that it behooved 
every lover of truth and friend of humanity to read it care- 
fully. His boast contained a measure of truth, for despite its 
severe limitations Thoughts stands as a major contribution to 
the theory of racial democracy which, a century after Appo- 
mattox, is still striving for recognition. 

By the time he left Baltimore for Boston he had concluded 
that the greatest obstacle to emancipation was the compla- 
cency of Northerners who would not accept his principles* 
Gradually the evil of slavery became identified in his mind 
with the lack of Christian ideals. The real enemy, he now 


saw, was not the slaveholder, culpable as he was, but the 
great mass of indifferent people all over the country. Just as 
the twentieth-century Communist discovers his chief enemy in 
the middle-class liberal, so Garrison singled out as his victim 
the well-meaning but morally uncommitted citizen who made 
up the ranks of the American Colonization Society. Not con- 
tent with presenting his case for immediate emancipation, he 
was driven to destroy the society and incriminate its members. 

The significance of his vendetta against colonization lay in 
the new perspectives it furnished him. It was easy enough to 
label his enemies "hard-hearted incorrigible sinners" and "piti- 
ful, pale-faced usurpers," but what was his alternative to a 
program he denounced as inadequate in design and injurious 
in its operation? He needed to define his plan for freeing the 
slave with a precision he had not yet shown. Since the found- 
ing of the American Colonization Society in 1817 its most 
effective critic had been the Northern free Negro. Garrison's 
first contact with this body of opinion came in Baltimore, 
where he met Lundy's friend William Watkins, whose trench- 
ant criticism of colonization principles he published in the 
Genius. Why, asked Watkins, should Negroes be forced to 
leave their home for certain death in Africa? Why leave a 
land of gospel light for one enshrouded in pagan gloom? 
These questions set Garrison thinking, 

At this time, too, Garrison first read Walker's Appeal, one 
section of which was devoted to "Our Wretchedness in Con- 
sequence of the Colonizing Plan.' 7 Walker leveled his sights 
on the false friends of the Negro who, he said, did not care 
"a pinch of snuff" either for Africa or the slave. To them he 
said simply, "We must and shall be free, I say, in spite of 
you." Reading Walker's impassioned pages or listening to the 
heated discussion of Watkins and Lundy's other colored 
friends, Garrison wondered how the colonizationists had 


duped Americans into believing the Negro unfit for civilized 
life. That there were thousands of them huddled into slums 
in Northern cities and living in crime and squalor he would 
not deny. Yet once given education and proper Christian 
training might not the whole race rise to the level of Watkins 
and Walker or even secretly he believed it possible to that 
of white Americans? Then he realized that the answer hinged 
on the fate of the American Colonization Society. 

In its first crucial year the Liberator pressed the attack on 
colonization to the limits of sensationalism. An editorial for 
April 23, 1831, announced the editor's decision to unmask 
the society as a group of Negro-haters "who have entered 
heels of this accusation came others: the Colonization Society 
was founded on "Persecution," "Falsehood," "Cowardice," 
and "Infidelity"; it conspired to strengthen slavery; it libeled 
the Negro race; it betrayed the American heritage of free- 
dom. 23 

In June, 1831, he was invited to address the Free People of 
Color in Philadelphia, where he was the guest of Robert Pur- 
vis, the son-in-law of Negro leader James Forten. Talking 
with these colored families and visiting in their homes made 
him realize how much emancipation meant to them. They 
flattered him, sought his advice, and openly courted his ap- 
proval. He, in his turn, lectured them endlessly, advising them 
to make Jesus their exemplar and refuge, and counseling them 
against hatred and violence. He clearly enjoyed playing their 
father confessor, and there was a good deal of spurious hu- 
mility in his posture. He could hardly meet these Negroes on 
their own terms without betraying a habitual sense of superi- 
ority, but he could learn to respect if not to understand them. 
Even then he was driven to ritualize his initiation by a formal 
act of contrition. "I never rise to address a colored audience," 


he told them, "without feeling ashamed of my own color; 
ashamed at being identified with a race of men who have done 
you so much injustice. . . . To make atonement, in part, 
for this conduct, I have solemnly dedicated my health, and 
strength, and life, to your service." 24 Though he spoke of 
love, forgiveness and compassion, what emerged most clearly 
from this confession was his own overriding sense of guilt. 

Back in Boston he prepared to dispose of colonization once 
and for all. He had to prevent the society from poisoning the 
minds of the people, for until Americans were willing to ad- 
mit the Negro to an equality of rights there could be no 
Christian society. "They do not wish to admit them to an 
equality," he confessed to Henry Benson, "they tell us we 
must always be hostile to the free people of color, while they 
remain in this country. If this be so, then we had better burn 
our bibles, and our Declaration of Independence and candidly 
acknowledge ourselves to be incorrigible tyrants and hea- 
thens." 25 The only other course open to Christians lay in a 
holy war of extermination of prejudice, and this course he 
now determined to take. 

Thoughts on African Colonization is a bulky pamphlet of 
two hundred and forty pages which opens with the familiar 
dispassionate announcement of the author's "unbiassed mind" 
and "lively sense of accountability to God." 26 So far, his re- 
ward for disinterested benevolence had consisted solely of 
persecution and abuse. "I have been thrust into prison, and 
amerced in a heavy fine! Epithets, huge and unseemly, have 
been showered upon me without mercy. . . . Assassinations 
have been threatened me in a multitude of anonymous letters. 
Private and public rewards to a very large amount . . . have 
been offered to any person who shall abduct or destroy me." 27 
Of his supposed recusancy to the cause of colonization he says 


only that "whereas I was blind, now I see," and seeing, has 
decided to tell all 

The main section of the pamphlet containing the mass of 
damaging quotations against colonization is divided into ten 
headings, each of them compiled about a core of quotations 
designed to establish the truth of the allegation. To support 
his first claim that the society is pledged not to interfere with 
slavery he cites the second article of its constitution defining 
its purpose as "exclusively" colonization. To this he adds 
Henry Clay's periodical disclaimers of any intention to meddle 
with slave property. Then follow quotations from John Ran- 
dolph, G. W. Custis, Francis Scott Key, quotations from a 
dozen annual reports of the society, quotations from coloni- 
zation tracts, from auxiliary societies, memorials, and ad- 
dresses quotations ad nauseam. "Out of thine own mouth 
will I condemn thee," warns the frontispiece, and so it proves. 

In his resolve to ruin the Colonization Society whatever 
the cost, Garrison did not scruple to use dishonest methods. 
His promise to discuss the society as a whole counted for 
nothing. Individual opinions of its members he treated as offi- 
cial declarations of policy; he held the society responsible for 
aU the editorial views of the African Repository. But his most 
serious editorial transgression was the sin of omission, his un- 
fair practice of quoting out of context. From a speech of 
Dr. E. B. Caldwell, one of the founders of the society, he took 
the following excerpt: 

The more you improve the condition of these people, the more 
you cultivate their minds, the more miserable you make them in 
their present state. You give them a higher relish for those privi- 
leges which they can never attain, and turn what you intend for 
a blessing into a curse. No, if they must remain in their present 
situation, keep them in the lowest state of ignorance and degrada* 


tion. The nearer you bring them to the condition of brutes, the 
better chance do you give them of possessing their apathy. 28 

Actually Caldwell had gone on to add: "Surely Americans 
ought to be the last people on earth to advocate such slavish 
doctrines to cry peace and contentment to those who are 
deprived of the blessings of civil liberty." This qualification 
Garrison found it convenient to ornit. There were other 
examples of quotations similarly doctored with italics, sen- 
tences truncated and meanings twisted. He distorted ideas 
because at bottom he did not really respect them. Concerned 
with the immediate impact of opinion and unable to follow 
other people's thoughts to their logical ends, he felt no mis- 
givings about appropriating only what he needed at the mo- 
ment, whether it was a paraphrase of a Biblical quotation or a 
fragment of reasoned argument. When colonizationists com- 
plained of this willful misrepresentation, he retorted that 
however much he altered the structure he had not changed the 
meaning the devil's altar-rail needed not his polishing. Such 
specious arguments aside, it was true most of his quotations 
required no accommodation. Even without these fraudulent 
tactics the Colonization Society stood condemned. 

The text of Thoughts shows every sign of having been 
hastily compiled from earlier editorials and speeches in the 
attempt to lend fervor to the exposition. Yet seldom does the 
forced eloquence rise above the commonplace. It is rather in 
its appeal to the spirit of religious orthodoxy that the tract 
attains its object in disclosing the revolutionary power latent 
in the evangelical formula. The argument rests on Garrison's 
assumption that sin, far from being solitary, springs from 
communal roots. Slavery is the sum of interlocking and mu- 
tually sustaining sinful acts and can be wiped out only by 
collective repentance. Just as the lone sinner is cured by re- 


generation, so a whole people can purify themselves under the 
convenant by refusing to sin any longer. Their reward is 
God's approval evidenced in a flourishing and holy com- 
munity. "I appeal to those who have been redeemed from the 
bondage of sin by the precious blood of Christ, and with 
whom I hope to unite in a better world in ascribing glory, 
and honor, and praise to the Great Deliverer for ever. If I 
can succeed in gaining their attention, I feel sure of con- 
vincing their understandings and securing their support." 29 
Regeneration, then abolition the evangelical prescription for 

In closing their Bibles and ignoring God's command, he 
continued, Americans had forgotten that God made of one 
blood all nations to dwell on the face of the earth. For Garri- 
son the words "one blood" expressed a biological fact as well 
as a spiritual truth. He believed that in a single creation God 
had made all races of men, who, however physically distinct, 
partook in common of the atoning blood of Christ. Christi- 
anity enjoined racial equality because God had placed his 
mark of infinite worth on all men. Some might argue that 
He had placed a special mark on the black man. "True: and 
he has also put a mark upon every man, woman and child, in 
the world; so that every one differs in appearance from an- 
other." To suppose therefore that races ought to be divided 
into self-enclosed communities each with its own exclusive cul- 
ture was to misread the divine plan. 

The difference between a black and a white skin is not greater 
than that between a white and a black one. In either case, the 
mark is distinctive; and the blacks may as reasonably expel the 
whites as the whites the blacks. To make such a separation we 
have no authority; to attempt it, would only end in disappoint- 
ment; and, if it were carried into effect, those who are clamour- 
ous for the measure would be among the first cast out. 80 


The American Colonization Society, he went on, solemnly 
assured the people that Nature had played them falsely. 
Colored persons were born by mistake in this country; they 
should have been born in Africa. "There occur at least sixty 
thousand mistakes annually; while the Society has corrected 
only about two thousand in fourteen years! But courage! 
men engaged in a laudable enterprise should never despair!" 51 
What about the thousands of mulattoes, quadroons, octo- 
roons? Was it really possible to define the precise shade of 
color which qualified a man for civilized life? If not, then 
Americans had better raise an army of whites to drive out 
everyone who could not produce vouchers that pure "English 
blood" flowed in their veins. He refused to grant that color 
was anything more than an incidental physiological difference 
like bone structure having no connection with a man's mental 
and moral proclivities. To be a thoroughgoing colonizationist 
one would have to be consistent. "I must be able to give a 
reason why all our tall citizens should not conspire to remove 
their more diminutive brethren, and all the corpulent to re- 
move the lean and the lank, and all the strong remove the 
weak. ... I cannot perceive that I am more excusable in 
desiring the banishment of my neighbor because his skin is 
darker than mine, than I should be in desiring his banishment 
because he is smaller or feebler than myself." 

Nor were there any "impassable" natural barriers prevent- 
ing racial intermarriage. Colonizationists argued that Nature 
forbade the lion to beget the lamb or the leopard the bear, but 
the "amalgamation" they so dreaded increased daily. The 
Southern planters had clearly shown that amalgamation was 
not only possible but eminently productive! Talk about the 
"barriers of Nature" when die land swarmed with living refu- 
tations of the statement Miscegenation laws constituted a 
denial of our common humanity and a reproach to God. No 


man should be refused a share in the plenitude of creation 
which "presents to the eye every conceivable shape, and 
aspect, and color, in the gorgeous and multifarious productions 
of Nature." Like everything else in the universe the free mix- 
ture of races formed part of the divine plan. 

Perhaps the gravest charge brought against the abolitionists 
is that of attempting to "white-wash" the Negro by making 
him like themselves. It is true that in his devotion to humanity 
Garrison forgot the Negroes as individual human beings, and 
that he wanted above all else to bring them to a state of grace. 
He believed that the nearer they approached the whites in 
their habits the better they were. He was continually search- 
ing for the signs of gentility and refinement which would 
prove them the equal of the whites, and when he thought he 
discerned such traits he rejoiced. "I wish you had been with 
me in Philadelphia," he wrote to Ebenezer Dole of his visit 
there in 1832, "to see what I saw, to hear what I heard, and 
to experience what I felt, in associating with many colored 
families. There are colored men and women, in that city, who 
have few superiors in refinement, in moral worth, and in all 
that makes the human character worthy of admiration and 
praise." 32 It is also true that his relationship with Negroes was 
always tempered by a sense of estrangement. For them he 
symbolized the humanitarianism of the white people, righteous 
but cold and impersonal, while in his eyes they appeared first 
and last as noble examples of an oppressed race. He admired 
but never really knew them or understood what it meant to be 
a Negro. They always seemed to him a social problem rather 
than simply people. 

Still, if he thought only of "elevating" the race with the 
prayers and promises of a white man's religion, such was his 
prescription for all mankind. And if he continued to empha- 
size unduly the ability of the Negro to become like the white 


it was because few of his contemporaries were prepared to 
believe this was possible. The time when science would ex- 
plode the myth of inherited racial characteristics lay far in 
the future. In 1832 Americans accepted the "depravity" and 
"corruption" of the colored people as established fact. What 
better way to prove equality, Garrison asked himself, than 
by making the Negro white? For the failure of perception 
and the habit of evading all genuine experience of the race 
his critics were right in condemning him. He never tried to 
understand people, black or white, but preferred to use them 
as counters in the grim business of reform. But at a time when 
it was generally agreed that the Negro race was inherently 
inferior Garrison's detachment his ability to isolate people 
from the environmental forces that produce them was an 
asset rather than a liability. 

From the premise of Christian universalism Thoughts pro- 
ceeded to a distinction between gradual and immediate eman- 
cipation. What was gradual emancipation a gradual ab- 
staining from cruelty and oppression? "Do colonizationists 
mean, that slave-dealers shall purchase or sell a few victims 
less this year than they did last? that slave-owners shall liberate 
one, two, or three out of every hundred slaves during the 
same period? that slave-drivers shall apply the lash to the 
scarred and bleeding backs of their victims somewhat less 
frequently?" Immediate e?nancipation, on the other hand, 
meant "simply declaring that slave-owners are bound to ful- 
fill now, without any reluctance or delay the golden rule, 
namely, to do as they would be done by." 38 It did not mean 
that all slaves should immediately be given the right to vote or 
hold office or even be free from "the benevolent restraints of 
guardianship." Immediate emancipationists demanded only 
that the Negro be given the right to work as a free laborer 
along with education and religious instruction. Freedom 


would increase the value of Negro labor and augment the 
wealth of the South. The new freedmen would make good 
citizens: "they will not be idle, but avariciously industrious; 
they will not rush through the country firing dwellings and 
murdering inhabitants; for freedom is all they ask," 34 

The publication of Thoughts plunged the Liberator into 
temporary financial trouble, and soon Garrison was com- 
plaining that he must let the paper "die" or make public his 
embarrassment; 35 Happily, the tract began to sell Arthur 
Tappan ordered one hundred copies for distribution among 
his friends. Copies found their way into the libraries at Lane 
Seminary and Western Reserve. Theodore Weld, a convert to 
abolition and a rising figure in Western anti-slavery circles, 
discussed Garrison's arguments with his followers. Within 
nine months it had sold 2750 copies by anti-slavery stand- 
ards an unprecedented number. Garrison was naturally 
pleased with his success and announced as early as June that 
"conversions from colonization are rapidly multiplying in 
every quarter." 36 The Colonization Society, after expressing 
the charitable hope that Garrison would modify his views, 
chose to ignore the work. Agents of the society made a few 
feeble attempts to defend colonization in open debate with the 
Garrisonians, only to be routed. Skirmishes between the two 
camps continued for a decade, but for all practical purposes 
the appearance of Thoughts ended the usefulness of the so- 
ciety. "The roads of Colonization and Abolition lead in dif- 
ferent directions, but they do not cross each other," Henry 
Clay once said. In 1832, standing at the crossroads of reform, 
Northern opponents of slavery read Garrison's signpost and 
chose the road that led to emancipation. 

Triumph and Doubt in 1833 

IN APRIL, 1833, Garrison sailed for England on his first 
anti-slavery mission. In New York on the eve of his de- 
parture he discovered a "murderous design 77 to kidnap and 
deliver him to the authorities in Georgia, and he rushed off to 
Philadelphia to board the Liverpool packet before the con- 
spirators realized their mistake. But he was too late the ship 
had sailed and there was nothing to do but return secretly to 
New York and baffle the vigilance of his enemies by hiding 
aboard the pilot boat until it was far down the harbor. "My 
friends are full of apprehension and disquietude," he wrote 
to one of his female admirers, "but I cannot know fear. I feel 
that it is impossible for danger to awe me. I tremble at noth- 
ing but my own delinquencies, as one who is bound to be 
perfect even as my heavenly Father is perfect." 1 

As usual he had refurbished the facts to suit his purpose. 
His pursuers were not young bloods from Georgia intent on 
carrying him off, but the sheriff of Windham County, Con- 
necticut, who had tried to serve him with five separate writs 
for his part in helping Prudence Crandall, the Quaker school- 
mistress, establish a school for colored girls. The unhappy 
sheriff had caught sight of Garrison a few minutes after he 
left by stage for New York and had chased the coach for 
a few miles before giving up in disgust. Garrison was sure 


that the escapade was part of a plot to thwart his mission. "No 
doubt the Colonization party will resort to some base measures 
to prevent, if possible, my departure for England," 2 he warned 
Knapp and instructed him to print the story in the Liberator. 
The more he considered the incident, the larger it loomed; 
and by the time he reached New York it had acquired the 
dimensions of a gigantic conspiracy. He enjoyed intrigue, and 
besides, cloak-and-dagger tales made good copy. 

He was going to England as an agent of the New England 
Society to raise funds for a manual labor school for Negroes. 
The manual labor idea was an important part of the New 
England Society's program. The scheme originated in Switzer- 
land and had been tried in several European countries before 
the Reverend George W. Gale brought it to the Oneida 
Institute in western New York. The plan provided that each 
student pay part of his expenses by working on the school 
farm, thereby reducing the costs of education and ensuring 
the health of the student, which, so the theory went, might be 
endangered by long hours of study. Such institutions, it was 
hoped, would provide rural havens of simplicity where young 
men could escape the wiles and snares of sophisticated society. 
Most of the theological schools in die country had already 
adopted a modified version of voluntary manual labor, but at 
Oneida work was compulsory. The Board of Managers of the 
New England Society were so impressed with the favorable 
reports from Oneida that they decided to combine the idea 
with Negro education in New England. In March, 1833, they 
appointed Garrison an agent to "proceed to England as soon 
as the necessary arrangements can be made, for the purpose of 
procuring funds to aid in the establishment of the proposed 
ury lacked funds for the trip, Garrison spent six weeks making 
a series of farewell appearances in Boston, Providence, New 


York, and Philadelphia dunning his colored friends. By April 
he had nearly six hundred dollars, enough for traveling ex- 
penses, and on the first of May he embarked for Liverpool. 

His own motives for undertaking the trip he kept to him- 
self. He knew that Elliot Cresson, the agent of the Coloniza- 
tion Society, was conducting a fund-raising tour of the British 
Isles. Using his reputation as the fearless editor of the Liber- 
ator and author of Thoughts on African Colonization, he 
meant to unmask Cresson and his organization and establish 
himself as the undisputed leader of American anti-slavery. 
He also knew that Charles Stuart, a member of Tappan's 
New York circle and an opponent of the Colonization So- 
ciety, was already in England denouncing Cresson wherever 
he went. Stuart was a retired British army captain who once 
had been court-martialed for refusing to fire on a group of 
East Indian natives. A bachelor with an effusive manner and 
eccentric habits, he was also a spirited polemicist who would 
have no difficulty in disposing of Cresson, Finally, Garrison 
knew that the English abolitionists, already within sight of 
their goal, needed no enlightenment on the American Coloni- 
zation Society. Only a year ago Thomas Buxton had written 
to tell him that it was wholly unnecessary for him "to set me, 
or any of the true Anti-Slavery Party in this Country on our 
guard against the delusive professions of the Colonization 
Society or its Agent." 4 Still, if his newly acquired prestige 
was to be of any help to him, he must make the pilgrimage to 
London and personally receive the blessing of the English 
anti-slavery veterans. Thus from the beginning his mission 
took on the aspects of a publicity campaign to which the 
intrigues surrounding his departure were a fitting prologue. 

After a short passage of three weeks, most of which he 
spent miserably seasick in his cabin, he stepped down the 
gangplank at Liverpool wearied in "flesh and spirit." He did 


not see the nearby slums that so appalled Melville, but re- 
ported that the city seemed "bustling, prosperous, and great" 
in its "commercial aspect." He rested a few days at Dingle 
Bank, James Cropper's country house, before continuing to 
London. He already spoke of Cropper as his "excellent 
friend," though he had yet to meet him, his host having pro- 
ceeded to London before his arrival. Cropper more than ful- 
filled his description when Garrison joined him in London, 
for he more than anyone else was responsible for his Ameri- 
can friend's remarkable success. Cropper was one of the group 
of wealthy Quaker merchants who supplied the cause of West 
Indian emancipation with new energy. Prudent and grave, 
given to weighty pronouncements but a shrewd judge of men, 
he knew everyone of consequence in the anti-slavery move- 
ment and himself was much admired by his colleagues. 

On his arrival in London on May 27, Garrison discovered 
that almost every important English abolitionist had gathered 
in the offices of the society and the nearby Guildhall Coffee 
House to watch the passage of the West India Emancipation 
Bill through Parliament. Cropper took him to breakfast at the 
Coffee House and, much to Garrison's delight, introduced 
him as the distinguished agent of the New England Anti- 
Slavery Society. Realizing how timely his arrival was, he pri- 
vately gave thanks to Providence for ordering events for him 
"in a manner so highly auspicious." Now came a round of 
visits to anti-slavery notables, beginning with a breakfast with 
Buxton. Presented to the great Parliamentary leader, he was 
not a little disconcerted when, instead of stepping forward to 
shake his hand, Buxton sat staring at him doubtfully. Finally, 
after a full minute of embarrassing silence, he asked, "Have I 
the pleasure of addressing Mr. Garrison, of Boston, in the 
United States?" Upon Garrison's assurance that such indeed 
was the case, Buxton again paused and then said in evident be- 


wilderment, "Why, my dear sir, I thought you were a black 
man! And I have consequently invited this company of ladies 
and gentlemen to be present to welcome Mr. Garrison, the 
black advocate of emancipation from the United States of 
America." Whatever his private feelings, Garrison promptly 
replied that Buxton's was the only compliment he cared to 
remember. 5 

At Bath he spent five hours with the failing Wilberforce 
blissfully unaware of the old man's feeble condition. "I en- 
deavored to communicate as briefly and clearly as possible, all 
the prominent facts relating to our great controversy," he re- 
ported to the Board of Managers. "I impressed upon his mind, 
tenderly and solemnly, the importance of his bearing public 
testimony against the American Colonization Society." 6 Wil- 
berforce denied that he had ever considered colonization the 
sole remedy for American slavery, but agreed with his dog- 
matic young visitor that he should officially withdraw his 

Thomas Clarkson, doddering and now almost totally blind, 
proved less tractable than his old friend and was not to be won 
over by the importunings of his uninvited guest. He was a 
good friend of Cresson's and knew many of the leading colo- 
nizationists in the United States well. Although he too be- 
lieved that the society was only a first step toward emancipa- 
tion, he was determined not to become involved in what 
seemed to him a foolish controversy. After four hours of fruit- 
less argument in which Garrison "spared no pains to correct 
the erroneous views which he had formed," he left, lamenting 
that Clarkson should still feel it to be his duty to occupy 
neutral ground. 7 

On his return to London, Garrison found awaiting him a 
protest signed by Wilberforce and ten other English veterans 
denouncing the claims of die Colonization Society as "wholly 


groundless. " The protest, probably the work of Cropper and 
Charles Stuart, came as a welcome surprise. Lest his Ameri- 
can critics accuse him of intentional malice, he hastened to 
disclaim all responsibility for the declaration. "In getting up 
this protest," he explained to the New England Society on 
his return, "I had no agency whatever. It was altogether un- 
expected by me." 8 The eleven signatures nevertheless repre- 
sented a major achievement the primary purpose of the 
mission had been fulfilled. Now he had only to show himself 
to the British public as the lion of American abolitionism by 
devouring the Colonization Society's sacrificial lamb, Elliot 

Upon reaching London in May he had written a letter to 
Cresson accusing him of bilking the English public and chal- 
lenging him to a public debate. Cresson naturally refused to 
participate in such unseemly proceedings, whereupon Garri- 
son sent an open letter to The Times of London charging 
him with cowardice. In July, Charles Stuart, who had been 
dogging Cresson's footsteps ever since his arrival, reported 
that a meeting was being planned to organize a British 
Colonization Society. Would Garrison attend and testify 
against Cresson? Garrison would do more he would con- 
tact the Duke of Sussex, Cresson's patron, and try to dissuade 
him from supporting the project. Garrison failed to convince 
the duke, but Stuart succeeded in collecting a group of 
abolitionists including an ardent young agitator named 
George Thompson to attend the colonization meeting and, 
if possible, disrupt it. The Hanover Square meeting of the 
English colonizationists barely escaped the fate which Gar- 
rison had prepared for it. Of the one hundred and twenty 
present nearly one half were abolitionists rounded up by 
Cropper, Stuart, and Thompson. The Duke of Sussex, who 


presided, was bombarded with hostile questions. Finally, over 
the fierce protests of the abolitionists the majority voted to 
organize an English colonization society. Now there was 
only one recourse left to the anti-slavery party a meeting 
of their own "as an offset," as Garrison put it, at which he 
should be given free voice. 

The Exeter Hall meeting on Saturday morning, July 13, 
proved a resounding success. Garrison spoke for over two 
hours. In his speech he adhered closely to his plan for posing 
as the appointed agent of American anti-slavery reformers. "I 
cherish as strong a love for the land of my nativity as any 
man living. . . ." he told his audience. "But I have some 
solemn accusations to bring against her." America was guilty 
of "insulting the majesty of Heaven" by giving an open, de- 
liberate and base denial to her boasted Declaration. She had 
legalized licentiousness, fraud, cruelty and murder. In the 
course of his diatribe he referred to the Constitution, a sub- 
ject to which he returned a few days later in an article for 
the London "Patriot in an attempt to show that he had broken 
all national ties. 

I know [he wrote] that there is much declamation about the 
sacredness of the compact which was formed between the free 
and the slave States in the adoption of the National Constitution. 
A sacred compact, forsooth! I pronounce it the most bloody and 
Heaven-daring arrangement ever made by men for the continu- 
ance and protection of the most atrocious villainy ever exhibited 
on earth. Yes, I recognize the compact, but with feelings of shame 
and indignation; and it will be held in everlasting infamy by the 
friends of humanity and justice throughout the world. Who or 
what were the framers of the American government that they 
should dare confirm and authorize such high-handed villainy 
such a flagrant robbery of the inalienable rights of man such a 
glaring violation of all the precepts and injunctions of the gospel 


such a savage war upon a sixth part of the whole population? 
It was not valid then it is not valid now. 9 

Garrison's second object, to win acceptance as the official 
representative of American abolitionists, required a bit more 
ingenuity. In fact, he had approached Arthur Tappan and 
his friends for funds only to be refused. Tappan could not 
see that the British needed indoctrination in their own prin- 
ciples, and thought that any appeal for funds was premature. 
He even suspected that the real purpose of Garrison's mission 
was to inflate his own reputation, a shrewd guess as the 
Exeter Hall speech showed. "I have crossed the Atlantic on 
an errand of mercy," Garrison announced, "to plead for 
perishing millions and to discharge, in behalf of the abolition- 
ists of the United States, a high moral obligation which is 
due the British public." He would not bore them with a 
"lachrymal display" of his losses and crosses in the cause, but 
it was well known in America that he had stood, "almost 
single-handed for a series of years, against and in the midst 
of a nation of oppressors." If anyone could rightfully claim 
the sympathy of the English reformers, it was a man who 
had endured the wrath of his country for righteousness' sake. 

Near the end of his marathon performance he was inter- 
rupted by the arrival of the great Irish orator Daniel O'Con- 
nell, who had come to pay his respects. When he had 
finished, O'Connell strode to the platform and "threw off a 
speech as he threw off his coat," denouncing the Colonization 
Society and praising the wisdom of the New England Anti- 
Slavery Society in sending such an able advocate to English 
shores. Not since he printed the first number of the Liberator 
had Garrison been so well pleased with a day's work. 

One final appearance and he could return home. On July 
2^, three days after the second reading of the West India 


Emancipation Bill, Wilberforce died. In the endless funeral 
train to Westminster Abbey, behind princes of the blood, 
prelates of the Church, members of Parliament walked the 
grave bespectacled American with eyes piously lowered as if 
in a solemn recessional after the initiatory rites. When it came 
time to embark, he found he lacked the money for the return 
passage. Rather than approach Cropper and his friends, he 
borrowed two hundred dollars from Nathaniel Paul, a Negro 
minister and protege of Tappan who was also collecting funds 
for a manual labor school. He promised to repay the loan to 
Tappan just as soon as he was able, but secretly he wondered 
how soon that would be. On August 18 he boarded the 
packet Hannibal and arrived in New York five weeks later. 

Sitting in his cabin and reflecting on the summer's events, 
he had reason to be satisfied. Financially the trip had proved 
a failure, but he brought back with him the valuable protest, 
testimonials from Cropper and Thompson, and even a per- 
sonal tribute from Zachary Macaulay thanking him for his 
"eminent services . . . rendered to the cause of humanity." 10 
He had directed the rout of the colonization forces, paid a 
last tribute to the great Wilberforce, and made innumerable 
new friends. Most important, he returned with the recogni- 
tion and good will he needed to build an American anti- 
slavery movement. 

He stepped off the boat in New York to find the stage set 
for his entrance. While he was basking in the limelight of 
English flattery, the American reformers under the direction 
of Arthur Tappan were writing the script and casting the 
principals for the anti-slavery drama which played the Amer- 
ican stage for the next thirty years. American abolitionism 
from its inception was the product of two distinct groups, 
one in New England under Garrison, the other in New York 


and the Ohio Valley under transplanted New Englanders 
like Theodore Weld, Beriah Green, Elizur Wright and Henry 
Stanton. As a patron of American reform with connections 
in both the East and the West, Arthur Tappan was a pivotal 
figure in the formation of a national anti-slavery society. His 
New York Committee served as a clearinghouse for abolition- 
ist projects, distributed information, and functioned as a di- 
rectory for reformers everywhere. It was Tappan's great 
achievement in the year 1833 to j oin together the Eastern 
and Western branches of the anti-slavery movement into a 
single national organ, an achievement which no amount of 
Garrisonian disparagement could ever undo. 

Tappan's interest in the West dated from the autumn of 
1829 and the appearance in New York City of the great 
revivalist Charles Grandison Finney. If Lyman Beecher served 
as the archpriest of the eastern half of the Benevolent Em- 
pire, the New West belonged to Finney. Just as Beecher's 
version of "immediate repentance" provided the theological 
underpinnings for Garrisonism, so Finney's Arminian doc- 
trine of the "new heart," at once simpler and bolder than 
Beecher's, supplied the rationale for Western anti-slavery. 11 

Tappan's lieutenant and the leader of the Western anti- 
slavery movement was a convert of Finney's, Theodore Weld, 
an unkempt, sad-eyed evangelical whose quiet intensity and 
natural shrewdness brought him quickly to the front of the 
movement. Modest and circumspect as he seemed, Weld was 
a natural leader of men, an astute judge of character, and an 
efficient organizer all the things that Garrison was not. He 
had been lecturing on the temperance circuit when the Tap- 
pans, struck by his promotional talents and forceful presence, 
decided to have the sole use of so brilliant a lecturer and gave 
him the job of raising funds and selecting the site for a great 


theological seminary in the West based on the manual labor 
plan. In the fall of 1831, while Garrison was busy sending 
copies of the Liberator into the Ohio Valley, Weld set out 
on a tour of the West and South, addressing legislatures, 
colleges, churches and philanthropists on the subject of man- 
ual labor. His campaign took him as far south as Huntsville, 
Alabama, where he met James G. Birney, an' earnest young 
country lawyer whose austere Presbyterian conscience had 
convinced him of the wrongfulness of slavery. Just as Garri- 
son had first turned hopefully to the American Colonization 
Society for an answer to the problem, so Birney and Weld 
studied the society's program and weighed the justice of re- 
turning the Negro to Africa. Though Weld could not doubt 
the sinfulness of slavery, as yet he knew little about it, and 
Birney's searching questions and Scriptural arguments set him 
thinking. His effect on the Alabama lawyer was no less pro- 
nounced: when Weld started north after nearly a month in 
Huntsville, Birney abandoned a flourishing legal practice to 
become an agent of the American Colonization Society. 

From now on Weld, like Garrison before him, occupied 
himself almost exclusively with the study of American slav- 
ery. The turning point in his career came with his visit to the 
wilderness campus of Western Reserve College in Hudson, 
Ohio, late in November, 1832. Here he met Elizur Wright 
and Beriah Green, two faculty members who had been con- 
verted to abolition by Garrison's Thoughts. "You will re- 
collect," Wright admitted to Garrison soon after his talks 
with Weld, "that in a letter some time ago, I expressed some 
doubts with regard to the correctness of your views in respect 
to the African colony. Your 'Thoughts on African Coloniza- 
tion' have dispelled these doubts. I find that I was misin- 
formed, as doubtless thousands are, in regard to your opin- 


ions." 12 Using Garrison's moral arguments, Wright and Green 
converted Weld to immediate emancipation and convinced 
him that "the very first business is to shove off the lubberly 
Colonization Society which is, at the very best, a superim- 
posed dead weight." 13 Such was Garrison's message as the 
faculty at Western Reserve interpreted it. "The question now 
is, what shall be done?" Wright wrote to Weld in Decem- 
ber. a We would put one hundred copies of the Liberator 
into as many towns on the Reserve, if we knew where to 
find the means." They planned to form a local anti-slavery 
society* he told Weld, but what was needed was a national 
organization along the lines of the other benevolent societies. 
"What would benevolent men in N. York think of a con- 
vention on this subject, about the time of the anniversaries 
next spring?" 14 

As he traveled east to New York City in January, 1833, 
Weld was pondering Wright's suggestion when he received a 
letter from Garrison inviting him to Boston to address the 
New England Society on the subject of manual labor. Weld 
refused, pleading prior engagements in New York City. "Be- 
sides, Sir," he went on, "I am ignorant of the history, specific 
plans, modes of operation, present position and ultimate aims 
of the N.E. Anti-Slavery Society. Residing in the interior of 
the state of New York, I have been quite out of range of its 
publications, have never seen any of them or indeed any 
expose of its operations, and all the definite knowledge of its 
plans and principles which I possess has been thro the perver- 
sions and distortions of its avowed opposers." Yet he could 
see by the "expressive name" of Garrison's organization that 
its sentiments agreed with his that 

Nothing but crime can forfeit liberty. That no condition of 
birth, no shade of color, no mere misfortune of circumstance, 


can annul that birth-right charter, which God has bequeathed 
to every being upon whom he has stamped his own image, 
by making him a free moral agent, and that he who robs his 
fellow-man of this tramples upon right, subverts justice, out- 
rages humanity, unsettles the foundations of human safety and 
sacrilegiously assumes the prerogatives of God; and further, that 
he who retains by force, and refuses to surrender that which was 
originally obtained by violence or fraud, is joint partner in the 
original sin, becomes its apologist and makes it the business of 
every moment to perpetuate it afresh, however he may lull his 
conscience by the vain pleas of expediency or necessity. 15 

Reading Weld's letter, the very phrases of which were 
familiar, Garrison recognized his own arguments from the 
pen of a man who had never even heard of him. The Liber- 
ator had done its work well on the Western Reserve. 

Garrison walked down the gangplank in New York to 
find the scene prepared for his arrival. In the spring of 1833, 
just as he had sailed for England, Arthur Tappan set his anti- 
slavery plans in motion. Elizur Wright came to New York 
to serve as secretary to the New York Committee, and Tap- 
pan dispatched him to Boston to scout out Garrison's society. 
In Boston, Wright met his old Yale classmate Amos Phelps, 
who gave him news of Garrison's successes in England. 
Wright found that New York lagged behind Boston and 
told the Tappan brothers so. As summer drew on and the 
New Yorkers waited for reports on the West India Bill, they 
accelerated their program of agitation by distributing copies 
of Garrison's Thoughts and launching the Emancipator. 
Then, hearing the news of the victory in Parliament, they 
decided to call a meeting of "The Friends of Immediate 
Abolition in the United States" on October 2 in Clinton 
Hall* On the day of the meeting posters were tacked up all 
over the city: 



All persons interested in the subject of a meeting 
called by J. Leavitt, W. Green, Jr., W. Goodell, 
J. Rankin, Lewis Tappan, at Clinton Hall, this 
evening at 7 o'clock, are requested to attend at 
the same hour and place. 


N.B. All Citizens who may feel disposed to mani- 
fest the true feeling of the State on this subject, 
are requested to attend. 

That same evening a mob of some fifteen hundred New 
Yorkers stood in front of Clinton Hall yelling for the blood 
of Arthur Tappan and William Lloyd Garrison. In their 
midst stood Garrison himself, who had come to help organ- 
ize the New York Anti-Slavery Society and was now wan- 
dering among them unrecognized. 

Although Garrison was in no way responsible for the 
Clinton Hall demonstration, a rumor had circulated that he 
was back in the city and would attend the meeting. His 
Exeter Hall address had jarred the nerves of patriotic New 
York journalists, one of whom demanded that the "many- 
headed Hydra" be "nipped in the bud." "He comes in the 
flush of triumph," complained another, "and with the flatteries 
still on his ear of those who wish not well to your country." 10 
Promptly at seven o'clock on Wednesday, October 2, he ar- 
rived at Clinton Hall only to find it locked and surrounded 
by an angry crowd. Learning of the proposed demonstration, 
the trustees had hastily withdrawn their permission to hold 
the meeting there, whereupon Tappan and his friends ad- 
journed to the Chatham Street Chapel uptown. Garrison, un- 


aware of the change in plans and afraid that he might be 
recognized any moment by the mob shouting his name, turned 
on his heel and left. 

Meanwhile the mob moved on to Tammany Hall for a 
meeting of their own. On the platform in the front of the 
dusty hall sat two of the city's well-known newspapermen, 
Colonel Webb and young James Gordon Bennett, who had 
brought along with them the Portland Yankee John Neal, 
Garrison's old nemesis. All three were hostile to the abolition- 
ists and not averse to stirring up a mob if they could thereby 
upset Arthur Tappan's plans. Under the mistaken impression 
that Garrison was the real instigator of the meeting at Clinton 
Hall and was now somewhere in the audience, Neal stepped 
to the edge of the platform and demanded that he come for- 
ward and defend his views. Hearing no response, he plunged 
into a denunciation of anti-slavery. Suddenly word came that 
Tappan and his friends could be found in the Chatham 
Street Chapel, and with a roar the crowd poured out of 
Tammany headed for Chatham Street. There they found the 
huge iron gates to the chapel locked. Inside, the abolitionists 
were just completing the order of business. While the mob 
outside debated the best way of forcing their way in, the 
abolitionists hurriedly appointed a couple of committees, ad- 
journed sine die and fled by the rear door just as a horde of 
rioters swarmed in the front entrance. Once in the chapel 
they held a mock meeting presided over by a frightened 
Negro whom they had collared on the way and dubbed 
"Arthur Tappan," and after an hour's frolic they dispersed. 

Not until the next morning did Garrison learn he had been 
a part of the proceedings, whereupon he quickly slipped into 
the role of the coolheaded knight-errant who stood bravely 
by while a hysterical mob shouted for his head. Back in Bos- 
ton he told his readers of his reception. 


As soon as I landed, I turned the city of New York upside down. 
Five thousand people turned out to see me tarred and feathered, 
but were disappointed. As to the menaces and transactions of the 
New York mob, I regard them with mingled emotions of pity 
and contempt. I was an eye-witness of that mob, from the hour 
of its assembling at Clinton Hall to its final assault upon the 
Chatham Street Chapel - standing by it, undisguisedly, as calm 
in my feelings as if those who were seeking my life were my 
warmest supporters. ... For myself, I am ready to brave any 
danger, even unto death. 17 

It was no wonder, he went on, that New York raged at 
his triumph - "the secret of their malice lies in the triumph- 
ant success of my mission. Had I failed to vanquish the agent 
of the American Colonization Society, or to open the eyes 
of the British philanthropists to its naked deformity, there 
would have been no excitement on my return." 18 Frustrated 
in their attempt to discredit him in England, the colonization- 
ists resorted to violence at home: the Clinton Hall mob had 
been collected for the sole purpose of destroying William 
Lloyd Garrison. 

Following his providential escape from the clutches of the 
colonizationists, he was more determined than ever to srtike 
for a national society while his reputation still glowed. The 
Liberator was bankrupt and he owed Arthur Tappan the two 
hundred dollars he had borrowed from Nathaniel Paul. If 
ever he needed organized support outside of Boston it was 
now. "I am more and more impressed with the importance 
of "working whilst the day lasts,' " he wrote early in Novem- 
ber. "If 'we all do fade as a leaf/ if we are 'as the sparks 
that fly upwards' if the billows of time are swiftly remov- 
ing the sandy foundations of our life what we intend to 
do for the captive, and for our country, and for the subjuga- 
tion of a hostile world, must be done quickly/' 1 * In short, 


it was time to cash in. on his reputation before it was too late. 

The New York Committee was of a different mind, for the 
Clinton Hall affair indicated to them the need for moderation. 
Winter was nearly upon them and travel from the West 
would be expensive and hazardous. Better wait until spring 
wheji the delegates to the annual meetings of the benevolent 
societies would be congregating in New York. Then there 
would be a possibility of calling a real convention. Garrison 
refused to listen to these arguments and insisted that the call 
go forth at once. Postponing the meeting, he fumed, meant 
capitulating to the mob. Against their better judgment the 
committee gave way before his hectoring and drew up a 
circular inviting all the friends of abolition to a convention 
to be held in Philadelphia on December 4. They explained 
their change of plans by citing the urgency of the cause, 
which "must be injured by unnecessary delay" because "the 
public expectation is already excited. . . . We have before 
us numerous examples of similar organizations, which, though 
feeble and obscure, and condemned by public opinion in the 
outset, have speedily risen to great influence, and have been 
the means, under God, of immense benefit to the human 
race." 20 The reasoning sounded suspiciously Garrisonian, 
Privately Wright confided to Weld his own doubts as to the 
practicality of their decision, but admitted that "the most cool 
and collected friends of the cause here felt this to be a neces- 
sity, after a full view of the case." 21 Garrison had won his 

His New England delegation assembled at New York's 
City Hotel on the first day of December and, accompanied 
by Tappan's deputies, proceeded to Philadelphia, where they 
joined Beriah Green and his small contingent from Ohio and 
a sizable deputation of Pennsylvania Quakers. At an informal 
meeting at the home of Evan Lewis on the eve of the con- 


vention the delegates attempted to find a wealthy Phila- 
delphian to preside over the meetings. Both Robert Vaux, 
Cresson's friend, and another prominent citizen declined the 
offer, at which point the laconic Beriah Green announced 
that if there was not enough presidential timber among them- 
selves, they would have to get along without such a figure 
"or go home and stay there until we have grown up to be 
men." Taking Green at his word, the delegates elected him 
to preside over the convention which assembled the next 
morning at Adelphi Hall of Fifth Street. 

Garrison's spirit dominated the members of the convention, 
but he himself did not. While they admired his dedication 
and perseverance, the delegates were in no mood to be stam- 
peded into hasty decisions. Many of them agreed with Lewis 
Tappan that Garrison's name ought not to be "inserted promi- 
nently" lest it "keep away many professed friends of aboli- 
tion." 22 Still, that name might be worth a good deal when it 
came time to appeal to the English for help. Even if he was 
notorious and overly concerned with his good name, he 
stood for the Christian zeal they intended to foster. Thus he 
found himself cast in a double role as the guiding spirit and 
the wandering Jew of American abolition, constantly ex- 
tolled but at the same time carefully prevented from leading 
the convention into the wilderness of Scriptural quotation. 

On the first day a committee was elected to draw up a con- 
stitution. He was excused from this task and placed instead 
on a larger and less important committee heavily weighted 
with moderates like Whittier, May, Jocelyn, and Green, 
which was charged with composing a Declaration of Senti- 
ments. This group promptly delegated the work to a sub- 
committee consisting of May, Whittier, and Garrison, in the 
hope that May's good sense and Whittier's Quaker humility 
might blunt the shafts of Garrison's prose. Whittier and May 


left him in the evening of the first day sitting at a table in his 
room drafting the document and returned the next morning 
to find him still bent over the manuscript. As they had feared, 
his Magna Carta contained a full-page diatribe on coloniza- 
tion which, if anything, outstripped his earlier exercises in 
invective. Fortunately, the full committee spent three hours 
pruning the declaration of its excrescences and the members 
insisted on excising the passage on colonization. Garrison 
fought hard to save it, arguing that colonization and slavery 
stood or fell together, and only reluctantly accepted the 
majority opinion. "All right, brethren," he finally agreed 
after all his objections had been disregarded, "it is your report, 

not mine." 23 

The Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti- 
Slavery Society opens with a pointed reference to the meet- 
ing of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in the 
same city fifty-seven years before. "We have met together 
for the achievement of an enterprise without which that of 
our fathers is incomplete; and which, for its magnitude, 
solemnity, and probable results upon the destiny of the world, 
as far transcends theirs as moral truth does physical force." 
In view of its promises of liberty and equality the United 
States is the guiltiest nation on the face of the earth: 

It is bound to repent instantly, to undo the heavy burdens, and 
to let the oppressed go free. . . . The right to enjoy liberty is 
inalienable. To invade it is to usurp the prerogative of Jehovah. 
Every man has a right to his own body to the products of his 
own labor to the protection of law and to the common ad- 
vantages of society. . . . 

That all those laws which are now in force, admitting the right 
of slavery, are therefore before God, utterly null and void; being 
an audacious usurpation of the Divine prerogative, a daring in- 
fringement on the law of nature, a base overthrow of the very 


foundations of the social compact, a complete extinction of all 
the relations, endearments and obligations of mankind, and a 
presumptuous transgression of all the holy commandments; and 
that therefore they ought instantly to be abrogated. 

Fully and unanimously recognizing the sovereignty of each 
state, but maintaining the right of Congress to regulate slav- 
ery in the territories under its jurisdiction, the delegates 
pledged themselves to rely on moral suasion and "spare no 
exertions nor means to bring the whole nation to speedy 

The declaration reached the floor of the convention on 
December 5. Thomas Shipley, the Quaker delegate from 
Philadelphia, objected to the indiscriminate use of the word 
"man~stealer" and suggested the qualifying phrase "accord- 
ing to scripture," which was accepted despite Garrison's 
protest that the change appeared to make liberty dependent 
on Biblical sanction. Lucretia Mott, who attended all the 
sessions, offered a few verbal changes, but except for the 
colonization branch which had already been lopped off in 
committee, the declaration was accepted almost as it was 
written. With a smile of obvious pleasure Garrison watched 
as each delegate stepped gravely forward to sign his name. 

Satisfying too was Lewis Tappan's eulogy placing him "in 
die forefront of our ranks. . . . He has told the whole truth, 
and put hypocrites and doughfaces to open shame. . . . He 
has put the anti-slavery movement forward a quarter of a 
century." Tappan could not deny his young friend's many 
"imprudences," but it was clear, he said, that God had raised 
just such a zealot to lead them. "Let each member present 
feel solemnly bound to vindicate the character of Mr. Garri- 
son," he concluded, scarcely realizing the awesomeness of 
such a task. Dr. Abraham Cox then begged leave to read 


Whittier's tribute, "W.L.G.," and sonorously intoned the six 
stanzas which began: 

Champion of those who groan beneath 

Oppression's iron hand: 
In view of penury, hate, and death 

I see thee fearless stand, 
Still bearing up thy lofty brow 

In the steadfast strength of truth, 
In manhood sealing well the vow 

And promise of thy youth. 

The crown of laurels was not without its thorns. As the 
election of officers approached, the delegates were perplexed 
to know just what honor to distribute to their hero. The 
committee in charge of drawing up the constitution agreed 
that Elizur Wright should be the secretary of the society. 
The presidency obviously should go to Arthur Tappan, who, 
though unable to attend the meeting, was the man most 
responsible for its success. But what to do with Garrison? 
Would he accept a vice-presidency or a place on the Execu- 
tive Committee would he, in short, be willing to play sec- 
ond fiddle? The problem was solved temporarily when one 
of the delegates suggested that they create the office of secre- 
tary of foreign correspondence and ease Garrison into it. 
Accordingly, he was given the special post, which he held 
for six weeks before resigning in a huff after being told that 
all correspondence should be first submitted to the Executive 
Committee. His resignation gave the new society the answer 
to their question Garrison would play second fiddle to no 

There was one final problem for him to solve before he 
returned to Boston, and this was the matter of repaying Tap- 
pan the two hundred dollars borrowed from Nathaniel Paul 


At the moment he hadn't a penny. To make matters worse, 
the Liberator was still saddled with a thousand dollars' worth 
of unsold anti-slavery tracts. Unless he received some help 
and that soon the Liberator would surely go under. He 
therefore went to the new Executive Committee with a 
proposition. The society should undertake to buy four hun- 
dred and forty dollars worth of pamphlets (a large proportion 
of them his Thoughts}. This, he explained, was the very 
least he required to save the Liberator. But the committee 
pointed out that the society lacked the funds to purchase so 
much as a single tract At this point Arthur Tappan saved 
the day by offering to advance Garrison the money out of 
his own pocket and to let the society owe him. Whereupon 
Garrison announced that it would not be necessary to raise 
the whole amount since he already owed Tappan two hun- 
dred dollars. Now, after paying him his two hundred and 
forty dollar balance, the society could owe the remaining 
two hundred to Tappan, who in turn could owe it to Paul, 
and he, Garrison, would no longer owe anybody anything. 
To his own satisfaction if not that of the Executive Commit- 
tee, he had saved his paper, paid for his return passage, and 
cleared his skirts of debt. 24 

In Boston once again he sat down to cast up his accounts 
of the last twelve months. In many ways it had been a grati- 
fying year his triumph in England, the organization of a 
national society, and a growing number of followers. "Al- 
most every day brings some intelligence highly favorable to 
our cause," he wrote. 25 Beacon fires of liberty were beginning 
to burn all over the country. There was only one cause for 
dissatisfaction despite the accolades heaped on him in Phila- 
delphia, the American abolitionists had declined to accept his 
leadership. He had won their praises but not their support; a 
national society did not admit of the personal control he 


exercised over the New England Society. At Philadelphia 
he had met men every bit as devoted as he was, tough-minded 
and outspoken reformers who were not to be intimidated by 
belligerence however righteous. They wanted what Elizur 
Wright called "the right kind of fire," and they were pre- 
pared to build it themselves. He told his Boston partisans that 
u by dint of some industry and much persuasion, I succeeded 
in inducing the abolitionists in New York to join our little 
band in Boston in calling a national convention," but in his 
heart he knew that this was not so. 26 Already anti-slavery 
was growing faster than he had anticipated. To keep from 
being swallowed up in the national movement he must assert 
his control over his own followers. 

With this object in mind he introduced a resolution at the 
monthly meeting of the New England Society in February, 
1834, requesting the Board of Managers to call a convention 
of delegates from all the local groups in New England. "Our 
grand aim should now be to effect a complete concentration 
of all the anti-slavery strength we can muster that division 
may not weaken our efforts and that we may all see eye to 
eye." 27 His purpose, he said, was not to make the auxiliary 
societies subservient to the New England Society, but "to 
devise ways and means for the promotion of our glorious 
cause." Just what these means were New England abolition- 
ists were to learn in the course of the next four years as one 
by one he produced them for their approval woman's 
rights, nonresistance, and Christian perfectionism. Having 
failed to capture the national society, he began gathering his 
forces for a second assault. 

Mobs and Martyrs 

IN SEPTEMBER, 1834, Garrison married Helen Eliza Benson 
of Brooklyn, Connecticut. His marriage, a singularly happy 
one, afforded the additional advantage of allying his own 
Boston followers with the anti-slavery forces in southern 
New England. Helen's father, old George Benson, had been 
an abolitionist ever since he helped found the Providence 
Anti-Slavery Society back in 1792. At the time of his daugh- 
ter's marriage the eighty-two-year-old Benson was president 
of the New England Anti-Slavery Society and the patriarch 
of a large family known for its austere moral code. A mem- 
ber of the prosperous Providence firm of Brown, Benson and 
Ives, he had retired in 1796 after a heated quarrel with his 
partners and withdrawn to his Brooklyn farmhouse, where 
he spent the rest of his life directing projects for Christian 
reform. To the Benson farm came Benjamin Lundy and Wil- 
liam Ladd, young John Whittier, Samuel May, and finally 
Garrison himself to ask Benson's advice and the help of his 
two sons, George, Jr., and Henry. 

Twenty-three-year-old Helen, her father's favorite, was a 
plain girl with heavy features and placid expression, self- 
conscious, shy, quick, practical and shrewd. Her sensitivity 
and quiet humor, hidden beneath a self-effacing manner, quite 
escaped her husband, whose very real devotion did not in- 


crease his power of perception, Helen's was a selfless love, 
the antithesis of Fanny's possessive worship of her son. Garri- 
son still clung to the memory of his mother but married her 

Helen first met Garrison on the eve of his departure for 
England when he spoke one evening at the African Church in 
Providence. Her brother George, an ardent abolitionist like 
his father, brought her along to hear the Boston Daniel bait 
the lions of College Hill, and after the lecture he introduced 
her to the great Garrison. Later they both testified to the 
f atefulness of this meeting, but within a week he was off to 
England, and nearly a year passed before he opened his 
campaign for her hand. 1 

A campaign it was, complete with Stendhalian strategies 
for trapping the unwary Helen. For one who boldly courted 
notoriety, Garrison was a timid lover as though fearful of 
bruising his ego in an open encounter. He knew just the kind 
of wife he wanted a woman of "good sense" and "talent," 
given to no "unseemly familiarity of conduct" or "reckless 
disregard of all the rules of propriety." In short, a wife with 
a spirit exactly in unison with his own, who would provide 
home and family and submit to his mastery. Even when 
Helen Benson met all these demands, he was slow to declare 
himself. When his veiled hints and constant probing drove 
her to protest her unworthiness to be the wife of a great 
humanitarian, he replied peevishly that he had been "both 
vain and presumptuous" "vain, in supposing that my letters 
can either amuse or interest you presumptuous in thrusting 
them so frequently upon your notice." 2 Whereupon poor 
Helen confessed if he might overlook her many deficien- 
cies, "I see not why I may not gratefully acknowledge your 
attention in conferring so high an obligation upon me, and I 
sincerely respond to every tender expression of feeling. . . . 


I have opened my heart to you." 3 Then followed his own 
belated declaration. "Oh! generous, confiding, excellent girl! 
Do you then reciprocate my love? Yes, my fears are dis- 
pelled, my hopes confirmed and I shed delicious tears of 
joy! ... I did not dare to presume that you regarded me 
with so much esteem." 4 

His own self-esteem intact and master of the situation once 
more, he lectured poor Helen on the impropriety of flattering 
him and apprised her of her duties. She must guard against 
becoming "exalted in her mind" as well as against "excessive 
humility." She should avoid "all tawdry and artificial aids to 
the embellishment of her person." It was a wonderful favor, 
he reminded her, to be a dutiful child of God, an obedient 
disciple of the meek and lowly Jesus, and he prayed that she 
be kept from the temptations and snares of the world, from 
slothfulness and folly. 5 

Helen responded eagerly to his suggestions, anxious lest 
Lloyd, as she now called him, think her "not sufficiently 
grateful." She loved him, she admitted, "a thousand times 
more than my tongue or pen can utter." 6 

Having carried his siege, Garrison wanted to be married 
as soon as possible. Gallantly he addressed her as his "Charm- 
ing Conqueror" but added the sobering reflection that their 
contemplated union "gives universal satisfaction among my 
friends both white and colored." 7 He gave precise instruc- 
tions for the wedding: no "extravagance" or "eccentricity," 
no "showy kind" of wedding cake or expensive gifts. The 
ceremony to be performed by May and held in the morn- 
ing to allow the wedding party to reach Worcester by night- 
fall. He had rented a small house in Roxbury which he 
called Freedom's Cottage. Without consulting Helen he 
furnished it and hired a housekeeper whom he assured her 
was "modest" in her deportment and "genteel in her ap- 


pearance." Helen applauded his new domesticity. "Do not 
fear but everything will suit me/' she wrote. "I can assure 
you I am not difficult." 8 

Following a ceremony tailored to the bridegroom's speci- 
fications, the wedding party, including Garrison's Aunt 
Charlotte and Helen's companion Elizabeth Chace, set out 
for Freedom's Cottage and a well-chaperoned honeymoon. 
In Worcester, Garrison lost his baggage, and the cars made 
Aunt Charlotte violently ill The party arrived in Roxbury 
to find Isaac Knapp and his sister, their new boarders, al- 
ready comfortably installed. Even the irrepressible Garrison 
admitted that the arrival was "gloomy enough." Two days 
later his equanimity had returned, and he was able to report 
to Helen's sister Anna that the Garrisons eagerly awaited 
a visit from the Bensons. "I can hardly realize as yet, that I 
am married," he added, "although I have one of the best 
wives in the world." She fulfilled his every expectation. "Her 
disposition is certainly remarkable so uniformly placid, 
so generous and disinterested, so susceptible and obliging, 
so kind and attentive." 9 Helen would need all these qualities 
in the years to come. 

In October, Garrison returned to the urgent problem of 
saving his paper from complete collapse. The partners were 
now printing twenty-three hundred copies of the Liberator 
each week, only one quarter of which went to white sub- 
scribers, the rest going to editors on the exchange list, public 
officials, philanthropic societies, and free Negroes who could 
not or would not pay their bills. By 1834 ^ e condition of 
the paper was growing desperate. Earlier in the year Garri- 
son had enlarged the format and acquired six hundred new 
subscribers but "under such circumstances as to afford us no 
substantial aid: in fact, so remiss have they been up to this 
hour, in complying with the terms of our paper, that they 


have only increased our difficulties." 10 At the end of three 
years unpaid subscriptions totaled two thousand dollars. 
Allowing seven hundred dollars for the editor's salary (no 
princely sum, he assured readers) the Liberator showed an 
annual deficit of seventeen hundred dollars. 

The partners, casting about for a solution to their financial 
problems, proposed a scheme whereby readers could buy 
shares in the paper payable to the New England Society 
which would then undertake to manage the accounts, but 
nothing came of their proposal. Arnold Buffum suggested 
that Garrison accept a salary from the society, which hence- 
forth should direct the editorial policy of the Liberator, 
but Garrison bristled at this threat to his independence. Nor 
would he agree to discontinue the paper temporarily, as 
Elkur Wright advised, while he canvassed the countryside for 
funds. Henry Ware, May's old teacher, saw Garrison's em- 
barrassment as an opportunity to put the editor in his place, 
and offered the support of Boston philanthropists in exchange 
for the power of censorship vested in a board of managers, 
"each of whom should, a week at a time, examine all articles 
. . . and induce Mr. Garrison to promise to publish nothing 
there which should not have been approved by them." 11 
Ware's plan died quietly, and he himself admitted that he 
had been rash in proposing it since "all who know Mr. 
Garrison know that he is not a man to be controlled or 

Even Garrison's friends admitted that something must be 
done to soften his abusive tone. Elizur Wright complained 
of the difficulty of converting otherwise good men "who can 
not give up their grudge against Garrison." 12 Charles Stuart 
told Helen Garrison that the only "jangle of words" he had 
ever had with her husband "was when I cautioned him on. 
the severity of his language" and asked her to remind Garri- 


son "not to forget it." 13 Charles Follen, the aggressive Harvard 
professor who lost his job by joining the abolitionists, re- 
fused to become identified with the party of the Liberator 
because he distrusted its editor. Even Garrison's friend and 
patron Lewis Tappan admitted that several of his colleagues 
disapproved of the Liberator and refused to support it. His 
brother Arthur, for one, had become so dissatisfied with 
Garrison's policies that he was contemplating a new society 
in New England composed exclusively of anti-Garrisonian 

Still worse was the reluctance of new men to join a society 
dominated by the "madman Garrison." Gerrit Smith, the 
reformer from New York, balked when Elizur Wright sug- 
gested he join the abolitionists and asked whether the Liber- 
ator more than any other paper was the favorite mouthpiece 
of the anti-slavery societies. Only when assured that the 
paper spoke solely for its editor did he agree to support the 
abolitionists. James G. Birney, another convert from coloni- 
zation, wondered whether the Liberator would prove the 
fire ship of the anti-slavery fleet. 

Even more ominous was the growing breach between 
Garrison and the New England clergy. At Andover Semi- 
nary professors warned their students against the imprudences 
of the Liberator party. Professor Sidney Willard, Ware's 
colleague at the Harvard Divinity School, joined in deploring 
Garrison's growing influence, and at Yale Leonard Bacon 
used faculty disapproval of the Liberator to strengthen the 
colonization forces on campus. In Boston the evangelical 
clergy, taking their cue from Beecher, approached Chan- 
ning's followers with a plan for forming a society of moder- 
ates to "put down" Garrison. In the quiet of his Concord 
study Emerson summed up this growing resistance in a 


terse complaint. "The Liberator" he noted in his journal, 
"is a scold." 

Garrison's critics had reason to worry about mounting op- 
position to anti-slavery in the North. Amos Phelps was 
hardly surprised to learn that as agent of the Massachusetts 
Society he was worth a ten-thousand-dollar reward in New 
Orleans. But when a Methodist minister was mobbed in the 
streets of Worcester in broad daylight and another clergy- 
man arrested in Northfield, New Hampshire, as a common 
brawler, that was different! All over New England there 
were similar signs of growing protest. The president of 
Arnherst College demanded the dissolution of the college 
anti-slavery society on the grounds that it was "alienating 
Christian brethren, retarding and otherwise injuring the 
cause of religion in the College, and threatening in many 
ways the prosperity of the institution." 14 In Washington, 
Connecticut, the principal of the local school was fired and 
driven out of town for expressing abolitionist opinions; 
and in New Canaan, New Hampshire, an experiment in 
biracial education at Northfield Academy ended abruptly 
when the townspeople hitched a hundred yoke of oxen to 
the school and dragged it off into a nearby swamp. Emerson 
and Horace Mann were hooted when they tried to speak on 
the subject of slavery. Whittier was roughly handled in 
Garrison's home town. Charles Burleigh, a recent addition 
to Garrison's staff, was mobbed in Mansfield, Massachusetts. 
To many of these men it seemed that as the clarion of anti- 
slavery the Liberator was not an asset but a liability and that 
the cause of their troubles lay in Garrison's intemperate and 
abusive language. 

Garrison fought boldly for his editorial freedom. The hue 
and cry against his paper, he insisted, was itself a sign of 
progress. Four years ago there had not been so much as a 


peep or a mutter on the slavery question in the whole 
country. Now the subject was on every tongue. 

Within four years, I have seen my principles embraced cordially 
and unalterably, by thousands of the best men in the nation. If 
God has made me a signal instrument in the accomplishment of 
this astonishing change, it is not for me to glory, but to be thank- 
ful. What else but the Liberator primarily, (and of course instru- 
mentally,) has effected this change? Greater success than I have 
had, no man could reasonably desire, or humbly expect. Greater 
success no man could obtain, peradventure without endangering 
his reliance upon an almighty arm. 15 

Once again vanity obscured the truth: neither the New 
York abolitionists nor Weld's followers in the West un- 
reservedly accepted the Garrisonian formula of immediate 
emancipation. The New York Society still felt it necessary 
to modify his phrase to "immediate emancipation, gradually 
accomplished." Weld and the Westerners, puzzled by the 
semantics of their New York brethren, inverted their motto 
to "gradual emancipation, immediately begun." All the aboli- 
tionists agreed with Garrison that slavery must be wiped 
out as soon as possible, but no one knew exactly what his 
formula meant. Nowhere outside his own bailiwick in New 
England was his notion of immediate emancipation unquali- 
fiedly accepted. His flat assertion to the contrary convinced 
no one but himself. 

Scarcely more convincing was his argument that language 
was, after all, a matter of taste "and where is the standard 
of taste?" Though he admitted that his words were not 
always happily chosen, he explained that as an editor he 
necessarily wrote in great haste and could not remodel 
and criticize as he liked. Lest his critics seize on this as an 
admission of guilt, however, he proceeded to make a distinc- 


tion between principles and language only to flout it with 
triumphant illogicality by proving that the "fallacy" of the 
moderates sprang from their erroneous principles. 

When he examined the reaction of the American public to 
anti-slavery, he was on firm ground once again. What single 
abolitionist, he asked, had escaped the wrath of the people? 
"Are not all their names cast out as evil? Are they not all 
branded as fanatics, disorganizes and madmen?" Whittier's 
quiet manner did not protect him, nor did Beriah Green's 
vigorous tone make him popular. Phelps, Foilen, Goodell, 
Birney, all with styles superior, no doubt, to his own 
were as cordially despised as he was. "Why are they thus 
maltreated and calumniated? Certainly not for the phrase- 
ology which they use, but for the principles which they 
adopted." The truth was and here Garrison reached the 
heart of the issue that an anti-slavery minority had col- 
lided with the conservative instinct of an American society 
determined to ignore the moral question of slavery. But he 
went further he accused Northern businessmen and South- 
ern slaveholders of conniving to destroy American freedom 
and plunge the country into barbarism. Both had a vested 
interest in corruption, and to protect this interest they were 
willing to proscribe and persecute. Against their dark con- 
spiracy the abolitionists stood almost alone. "It is true, not 
many mighty have as yet been called to this sacred strife," 
he wrote to Channing. "Like every other great reform, it 
has been commenced by obscure and ignorant men. It is 
God's mode commonly, to choose the foolish things of the 
world to confound the wise; because his foolishness is wiser 
than men, and his weakness stronger than men." Like a tree 
planted by the water, the Saints would not be moved. 

Ten years earlier Garrison's naive conspiracy theory of 
history would have been discarded as the absurdity it was. 


But in 1834 events in the North and the South were combin- 
ing to give his convenient oversimplification the appearance 
of fact. Southern intellectuals were perfecting their theory 
of reactionary paternalism that utterly repudiated civil liber- 
ties. With its new "positive good" weapon the South was 
preparing an offensive against its critics which succeeded 
in silencing them at the cost of free institutions. Once ap- 
prised of the abolitionists' intentions Southern legislators 
reacted with near unanimity. Three years after the founding 
of the American Anti-Slavery Society every Southern state 
had passed laws prohibiting the organization of anti-slavery 
societies within their borders and preventing the dissemination 
of abolitionist literature. Even more effective than laws in 
securing uniformity were the vigilance committees, groups 
of prominent citizens in Southern communities entrusted with 
the execution of "justice" on those foolish enough to doubt 
the wisdom of slavery. These committees saw to it that local 
mails stayed closed to anti-slavery literature and that state 
laws prohibiting debate on slavery were duly enforced. By 
interrogating travelers and inspecting their baggage, by 
aiding local postmasters and offering rewards for the ap- 
prehension of notorious abolitionists like Garrison and Arthur 
Tappan they soon perfected all the inquisitorial techniques 
of a reign of terror. Typical of their efficiency was the 
work of the vigilance committee in Nashville, Tennessee, 
in 1835 *** punishing Amos Dresser, a student from Lane 
Theological Seminary unlucky enough to be caught with a 
parcel of Bibles wrapped in a copy of the Emancipator. 
Although Tennessee had not yet passed a law under which 
Dresser could be prosecuted, the Committee solved the 
problem by confiscating his belongings, administering twenty 
lashes in the public square, and driving him out of town. 
Not content with vigilance at home, Southern legislatures 


mounted an attack on the right of petition and bombarded 
Northern states with demands for action against abolitionist 
publishers. To the abolitionists' dismay their demands drew 
a sympathetic response from Northern legislatures. Only 
Pennsylvania and Ohio flatly denied the constitutionality 
of such controls. Bills to regulate anti-slavery publications 
were introduced in Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecti- 
cut. In Rhode Island a similar measure passed through com- 
mittee and was killed only by the efforts of the Republican 
Thomas Dorr. Governor Marcy of New York promised to 
use his upstate strength to bring the wild-eyed abolitionists 
in the city into line. And in Massachusetts Garrison soon 
found himself in mortal struggle with Governor Everett's 
conservative Whigs, who dominated the legislature and were 
determined to destroy him. 

It was the reaction of the Northern public that most 
disturbed the abolitionists. Everywhere there seemed to be 
an agreement on the need to suppress anti-slavery, a view 
which the Northern business community and the conservative 
press manipulated all too easily. In Cincinnati James Birney, 
who had abandoned colonization and was now a militant 
abolitionist, set up his Philanthropist press only to have his 
printing office torn apart and his home methodically wrecked. 
His courage and persistence increased the hatred of his fel- 
low townsmen until, plagued by lawsuits and hounded by 
pro-slavery mobs, he left for New York to become the 
secretary of the national society. When James Thome, one of 
Weld's band, attempted to lecture in Granville, Ohio, citizens 
of the town drove him off and burned the schoolhouse where 
he was to speak. The indefatigable Amos Dresser was mobbed 
in Marblehead, Massachusetts, less than a year after his 
experience in Nashville. Utica, New York, made lecturing 
a distinct hazard for the abolitionists, and from Weld came 


periodic reports of violence in the West. Lecturing in the 
Presbyterian Church in the village of CirclevHle, Ohio, he 
was struck on the temple by a rock. While he sat down to 
clear his head, the audience hung cloaks and coats over the 
windows, and he managed to finish his talk. The next night 
the church was closed and he had to deliver his lecture in an 
abandoned storeroom while a mob outside pelted the shutters 
with rocks. Not far away in Berlin, Ohio, Marius Robinson 
was dragged out in the middle of the night, stripped, tarred 
and feathered, and driven into the woods. 

For the most part undaunted, the abolitionists kept right 
on lecturing. John W. Alvord, another of Weld's "joyous 
warriors," kept up his spirits by retailing humorous accounts 
of the vicissitudes of his calling. "Last night Midd[l]ebury 
puked," he reported to Weld on one occasion. "Her stomach 
had evidently been overloaded. . . . Spasmodic heavings and 
wretchings were manifest during the whole day. Toward 
night symptoms more alarming." Warned off by the town 
fathers, Alvord and Thome insisted on holding their meet- 

All still until about 8 [o'clock] when in came a broadside of 
Eggs, Glass, Egg shells, white and yolks flew on every side. Br. 
Thom[e's] Fact Book received an egg just in its bowels and I 
doubt whether one in the house escaped a spattering. I have been 
trying to clean off this morning, but cant get off the stink. Thome 
dodged like a stoned gander. He brought up at length against 
the side of the desk, cocked his eye and stood gazing upward at 
the flying missiles as they stream [e]d in ropy masses through 
the house. ... He apologizes to me this morning by saying he 
thought the stove was crackin! ! ! ! ie 

Eggs were one thing, the organized savagery of city mobs 
another. The climax to this early outbreak of violence came 


in the summer of 1835 ^ n New York, when, in a sudden 
burst of race hatred mobs roamed the streets breaking up 
a meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, sacking 
Lewis Tappan's house, and invading the Negro section and 
methodically wrecking three churches, a school, and twenty 

Thus James Birney hardly exaggerated when he warned 
that the antagonist principles of liberty and slavery had been 
roused into action and only one could be victorious. Garri- 
son turned his warning into a denunciation of the South. 
"And what has brought our country to the verge of ruin. 


system, there is a general willingness to destroy LIBERTY OF 
SPEECH and of the PRESS, and to mob or murder all who op- 
pose it. In the popular fury against the advocates of a bleed- 
ing humanity, every principle of justice, every axiom of 
liberty, every feeling of humanity all the fundamental 
axioms of republican government are derided and violated 
with fatal success." 17 This histrionic identification of civil 
rights and the anti-slavery cause was to prove the most 
effective weapon in the Garrisonian arsenal, an argument 
which eventually turned back the pro-slavery assault on free 
society. In presenting the anti-slavery minority as the victims 
of a demonic slave power and, above all, by posing as their 
chief martyr, he dramatized the fundamental issues of free- 
dom and won the grudging support of a number of Northern 
moderates who finally recognized the Southern threat to 
free institutions. 

The first of Garrison's martyrs was Prudence Crandall, a 
fragile, birdlike zealot from Canterbury, Connecticut, who 
marched into the office of the Liberator in January, 1833. 
Two years before, she had bought a rambling house on the 
Canterbury green and opened a boarding school for young 


ladies. Her school prospered until she enrolled a young 
colored girl, whereupon the offended townspeople resolved 
to protect white womanhood by boycotting the school. Miss 
Crandall was ready to abandon her experiment in bkacial 
education when she happened to read one of Garrison's edi- 
torials proposing a manual labor college for Negroes, which 
gave her the idea of opening her school to colored girls ex- 
clusively. She wrote to Garrison telling him of her plan and 
requesting an interview. "I do not dare tell any one of my 
neighbors about the contemplated change in my school," 
she added, "and I beg of you, sir, that you will not expose 
it to any one; for if it was known, I have no reason to doubt 
but it would ruin my present school." 18 Ten days later she 
appeared in Boston to discuss with him the best means of 
finding pupils. Garrison was convinced that the scheme 
was practicable, and on March 2, 1833, the Liberator carried 
the announcement that Miss Crandall was now accepting 
applications for her new school. The notice was accompanied 
by the editor's imprimatur assuring readers of his "pleasurable 
emotion" in contemplating the success of the venture and of 
his entire confidence in Miss Crandall. News of the proposed 
school was already abroad, however, and by the time Garri- 
son sailed for England Miss Crandall was deep in trouble with 
the citizens of Canterbury incensed at the prospect of a 
"nigger school" on their doorstep. 

A little opposition was all that the abolitionists needed to 
turn the affair into an anti-slavery came celebre. Arnold 
Buffum was dispatched by the New England Society to 
argue Miss Crandall's case in a Canterbury town meeting. 
Samuel May offered his services, and the Benson brothers 
hurried over from Providence. From New York came word 
that Arthur Tappan stood ready to meet all expenses. Mean- 
while fifteen or twenty colored girls were recruited from 


Providence, Boston, and New Haven, and classes at the 
school began. Then the townspeople discovered an old va- 
grancy law on the books and threatened to enforce it. Canter- 
bury rallied in protest against Miss Crandall's experiment; 
grocers refused to sell to the school, doctors declined to 
attend the students, and town loafers added their bit by 
molesting Miss Crandall and the girls. Andrew Judson, the 
spokesman for the town, rushed up to Hartford, where he 
found a majority of the legislature willing to pass a law pro- 
hibiting the establishment of schools for out-of-state students 
without permission of the local authorities. Although the 
law was a clear violation of constitutional rights, it served its 
purpose. The school was closed, Miss Crandall arraigned, 
and her trial set for August. After a single night in jail spent 
in the cell of a recently convicted murderer she emerged 
to learn that overnight she had become the heroine of the 
anti-slavery movement. At the trial the jury was unable to 
reach a verdict, but a few weeks later a second jury convicted 
her on. the charges of accepting nonresident pupils and teach- 
ing them. The case was appealed to the state supreme court, 
where about a year later the decision of the trial court was 
reversed on grounds of insufficient evidence. After twelve 
months of costly litigation Miss Crandall had won her case 
but lost her school: her fellow townsmen celebrated their 
legal defeat by breaking the windows of the school, filling 
the well with manure, and decorating the fence with dead 
cats. In the summer of 1834 Miss Crandall gave up the 
school, married a Baptist clergyman and moved West. 

At first Garrison was impressed with the tenacity of the 
Quaker schoolmistress. "She is a wonderful woman," he 
wrote to Knapp, "as undaunted as if she had the whole 
world on her side." 19 He ordered Knapp and Johnson in his 
absence in England to make full use of her case, and when, 


just as he sailed, Canterbury committed its "outrageous 
crime," he urged them to make a prompt defense. "If we 
suffer the school to be put down in Canterbury, other places 
will partake of the panic, and also prevent its introduction 
in their vicinity. We may as well, 'first as last,' meet this 
proscriptive spirit and conquer it." 20 When he returned from 
England, however, the Canterbury cause was already lost 
and circumstances had changed. In the first place, Miss 
Crandall was not a reserved maiden lady but a spirited com- 
batant who could trade epithets with the best of her op- 
ponents. With her own newspaper, the Unionist, she had 
conducted an able defense and given every indication of 
thoroughly enjoying her fame. Garrison noted that she was 
in danger of becoming "exalted above measure," in other 
words, a nuisance. He announced that her usefulness to 
the cause had ended and that though abolitionists should 
continue to "make the facts of this single case tingle in the 
ears of the people," it was best for Miss Crandall herself 
to move off "with flying colors" and leave him to cash in 
the depreciated currency of her reputation. 21 

To replace the chastened Miss Crandall as the star witness 
to the perfidy of New England he brought over the English 
agitator George Thompson in the fall of 1834. The two 
men had first met the previous year and struck up an im- 
mediate and deep friendship. A year older than Garrison, 
Thompson had risen in the English anti-slavery ranks only 
after years of adversity following a moral lapse that nearly 
ruined his Hfe. Some years before, he had stolen a sum of 
money from his employer and been caught red-handed. He 
readily confessed his crime, and in exchange for a promise 
not to prosecute had finally made good the entire amount. 
Yet he was still paying for his mistake despite his subse- 
quent impeccable behavior and his services to the anti- 


slavery cause he was dogged by the story of his crime and 
new charges of misappropriation of abolitionist funds. Tem- 
peramentally he and Garrison were much alike. Both were 
self-made men driven by ambition; both tried to compensate 
for their unpopularity at home by seeking honor abroad. 
Thompson had a tall stately carriage and a formal manner 
to match. Where Garrison achieved at best only a blunt 
forcefulness on the platform, Thompson's resonant elo- 
quence spun a kind of poetry of denunciation. 

"He comes not as a foreigner but as a man and a brother,' 
feeling for those in bonds as bound with them/' Thus Garri- 
son announced Thompson's arrival in Boston. For all his 
charm and dedication to the cause Thompson, something less 
than a success in England, proved a distinct liability in 
America. He received a sample of the reception awaiting him 
in the United States when he stepped off the boat to learn 
that the proprietors of New York's Atlantic Hotel had 
canceled his reservations upon hearing of his anti-slavery 
designs. It was a measure of Garrison's reckless disregard 
of public opinion that in the midst of his own struggles with 
a hostile clergy he asked Thompson to bring the weight of 
English evangelicalism directly to bear on his New England 
cousins. Thompson arrived in Boston to find a conservative 
religious opposition preparing to deal with the Liberator and 
its editor once and for all. 

The idea of an anti-slavery society composed of men of 
moderation and good sense proceeded from the fertile brain 
of Lyman Beecher. More than anything else Beecher feared 
disunion in church and society, and as he surveyed the 
work of the anti-slavery men in the year 1834, he was not 
encouraged by what he saw. The silken ties, those soft but 
mighty bands of love that united Christians in the North 
and South, were beginning to snap. Beecher had no trouble 


identifying the Atropos of the reform movement whose 
invective slashed the American lifeline. If Garrison were 
allowed to continue, he warned, abolitionism would not 
last two years. Something must be done immediately. Beecher 
spent the year 1834 as the first president of Lane Seminary 
trying to tame the reform impulses of his students and direct 
them into socially acceptable channels. For his pains he 
received nothing but their well-deserved rebukes. Led by 
Weld, the seminarians refused to be bridled and capped 
their series of protests by leaving the school. Back in Boston, 
Beecher's followers, heartened by premature reports of the 
master's success, went forward with their plans for a society 
based on "benevolent and enlarged feeling" whose first task 
would be to "put down" Garrison. 

The American Union for the Relief and Improvement of 
the Colored Race that "soulless organization with a sound- 
ing title," as Garrison dubbed it was nearly stillborn. The 
handful of clergymen who met in Tremont Hall on January 
14, 1835, were confronted with their archenemy accompanied 
by George Thompson and the rest of the Garrisonians who 
demanded to know the purpose of the new society. Receiving 
no answer and requested to leave, they opened a filibuster 
instead, whereupon Thompson was declared out of order 
and then "impertinent." The intruders next asked whether 
the American Union was to be open to "all friends of anti- 
slavery," as the first call had declared, or merely to those who 
"believe a new organization is necessary," as a subsequent 
announcement proclaimed. Once again they were asked to 
leave, which they finally did after hearing the ministers vote 
that slavery was not a sin and that the American Union con- 
templated "no designs of hostility in respect to any other 
institution." The abolitionists knew differently. 

Garrison was correct in ascribing a sectarian spirit to the 


American Union. The new society was dominated by the 
Congregational clergy who still found it difficult to work 
harmoniously with their more enlightened Unitarian brethren. 
The whole scheme might have collapsed had it not been 
for the arrival from New York of Arthur Tappan, bent on 
using the American Union to bring Garrison to reason. After 
meetings with both parties Tappan wrote an open letter to 
the Boston Recorder giving his blessing to the American 
Union but defending Garrison from the charge of atheism. 
No man, he pointed out, could be blind to Garrison's obvious 
faults, chief among which was "the severe and denunciatory 
language with which he often assails his opponents and 
repels their attacks," but these shortcomings need not ob- 
scure his "noble and disinterested efforts." 22 There was room 
in the movement for all good men: those who found it im- 
possible to work with Garrison should strike out for them- 

Lewis Tappan, in whom the milk of human kindness was 
slowly curdling, sensed the true purpose of the American 
Union from the beginning. He disapproved of Arthur's indul- 
gent view of the new society and did not hesitate to assure 
Garrison of his continued support. "I have attentively read 
your remarks on the proceedings of the late convention in 
Boston," he wrote to Garrison, "to form what I should call 
AN ANTI-GARRISON SOCIETY, and, for one, I heartily approve 
them. They will meet with a hearty response from every 
true hearted emancipationist in the land. The times require 
decision and courage, and I feel thankful to God for your 
steadfastness at the post which providence has assigned you. 
Go on and prosper, thou friend of the oppressed! The Lord 
will be thy shield and buckler." 23 Without waiting for per- 
mission Garrison printed the letter, while Lewis quickly won 
back his brother's support for the Liberator. Arthur with- 


drew to a position of benevolent neutrality and meanwhile 
resumed his aid to the Garrison party. Back in favor with 
the president of the national society, Garrison opened fire 
on the American Union, which under his heavy salvos slowly 
sank into oblivion. The first threat to his hegemony in New 
England had ended. 

The appearance of the American Union shattered Garri- 
son's dream of leading a united church into the anti-slavery 
camp. He had always believed that abolition should be the 
work of the American churches, but here in Boston, the 
birthplace of American Protestantism, religious leaders were 
transgressing and lying against the Lord by refusing to de- 
nounce slavery. American Christianity had become a pillar 
of slavery, and ministers no longer preached the true word 
of God. From now on the drift of his thought toward anti- 
clericalism was unmistakable as his obsession with conscience 
scattered before it questions of doctrine and polity. "To 
learn my duty," he warned his readers, "I will not consult any 
other statute-book than THE BIBLE: and whatever requirement 
of man I believe is opposed to the spirit of the gospel, I will 
at all hazards disobey." 24 Moral right, he declared, was ever 
paramount to legal right and should freely interrogate it. With 
George Thompson as his chief examiner he now took up the 
work of moral interrogation with renewed vigor. 

At Freedom's Cottage the two men planned Thompson's 
itinerary for the summer of 1835, beginning with a tour 
of Maine and New Hampshire. Thompson found it rough 
going. In Augusta a mob smashed the windows of his hotel 
room and a committee of leading citizens urged his hasty 
departure. In Concord his meeting with the ladies' auxiliary 
ended precipitately in a shower of brickbats; and in Lowell 
a hail of refuse stopped the proceedings. Everywhere he 
went he was denounced as an itinerant "stirrer-up of strife" 


and an agent of "foreign interference." A man less sure of 
himself might well have admitted the unpalatable truth that 
Americans simply did not take to George Thompson, but 
Garrison, convinced of his visitor's curative powers, simply 
doubled the dosage. The disastrous tour dragged through the 
hot summer. 

Elsewhere the national society was stepping up its offen- 
sive. In June the Executive Committee hit upon a new 
scheme for printing and distributing thousands of pamphlets 
and tracts. Then a circular went out to all its members 
calling for thirty thousand dollars to finance new periodicals 
and pay new agents. Until now most Northerners had looked 
upon the society as a collection of cranks and misguided 
meddlers well supplied with visions but lacking the common 
sense to effect any of their wild schemes. Two years had seen 
this unconcern give way to a real anxiety; and the announce- 
ment of a program designed to bring the anti-slavery message 
into every town and hamlet in the country roused the 
Northern public to action. Already there were mobs and 
riots aimed at the innocent free Negro. In Philadelphia gangs 
of toughs roamed the streets destroying Negro property 
and threatening the victims. In Utica rioters drove the dele- 
gates to a state anti-slavery convention out of town under 
a shower of mud and stones, and as soon as they were gone 
wrecked the offices of the city's abolitionist newspaper. In 
Hartford there were persistent rumors that a Negro church 
had been burned to the ground with the congregation locked 
inside it. Garrison thought he saw in these riots an "infallible 
sign" that Satan's time was short, "When tyrants increase 
the weight of the bondsmen's fetters, and threatens [sic] 
extermination to all who shall dare question their rights 
... it is pretty certain that they deem the hour of emanci- 
pation to be close at hand." 25 His followers who studied the 


explosive situation right in Boston more carefully did not 
share his optimism. 

In July he sailed for Nova Scotia and a month's rest, 
leaving Thompson in the capable hands of Samuel May. He 
returned to find the city ablaze with anti-abolitionism. 
Negroes on "Nigger Hill" were being harassed by bands of 
thugs who turned out nightly to loot their homes and drive 
them off the street. The press was busy whipping up hatred 
for Thompson as the "paid agent" of the enemies of "republi- 
can institutions." In August,, John Quincy Adams, back home 
between sessions of Congress, noted that a public meeting 
to silence the abolitionists was being planned and remarked 
acidly that "the disease is deeper than can be healed by town 
meeting resolutions." On Friday afternoon, August 21, Faneuil 
Hall was filled to capacity by Bostonians who came to hear 
Harrison Gray Otis argue the need to keep the abolitionists 
from scattering firebrands, arrows, and death. 

Garrison considered attending the Faneuil Hall meeting to 
refute the charges against him, but at the last minute he was 
dissuaded from making what could only have been a danger- 
ous gesture. Instead he took recourse to the columns of the 
Liberator. Linking the Faneuil Hall demonstration with the 
"popular fury" in the South, he lashed out at the "utter 
degeneracy' 7 of Boston. How, he asked, had the abolitionists 
behaved" under such provocation? "Have they, in a single 
instance, returned evil for evil? Who among them all, has 
given blow for blow? or who has girded on his sword, or 
who has recommended an appeal to force? m He identified 
the source of this new prescriptive spirit as the "sinful preju- 
dices in the high and educated classes." "Those classes do not 
compctse the active portion of the mobs, but they do the pas- 
sive, and thai poition is the most numerous, and m our opinion 
the most: to blame." 21 For tke time being, however, k seemed 


better not to offer further provocation. Leaving his brother- 
in-law Henry Benson in charge of the paper, he spent 
September at the Benson farm in Brooklyn, partly to regain 
his health, which had broken down under the strain of 
Thompson's visit, and partly to avoid trouble. "There is yet 
too much fever, and too little rationality, in the public 
mind . . ." he wrote to Benson, "for . . . any of us to make 
addresses to the patient without having him attempt to knock 
us down. Write print distribute this we may do with 
profit to our cause." 28 If he thought that the storm had 
blown over, he was quickly disillusioned on his return to the 
city. A few days earlier enterprising citizens had erected a 
gallows in front of his house and were now eagerly awaiting 
his arrival. Then they learned of a meeting of the Boston 
Female Anti-Slavery Society scheduled in Julien Hall at 
which George Thompson would speak. 

Two facts are clear concerning the "Garrison mob" of 
October 21, 1835: it was instigated by the Boston press, and 
Garrison was not its intended victim. All during the summer 
the Boston Atlas and the Gazette had called for resistance to 
the "impudent bullying" of George Thompson, "not from 
the rabble, but from men of property and standing, who 
have a large stake in the community." A week before the 
riot Buckingham's Courier, which had defended Garrison in 
the past, joined the standing order in denouncing the English- 
man as a "vagabond" and a "scoundrel" hired by the aboli- 
tionists to spread race hatred. On October 14 the anniversary 
meeting of the ladies' society was postponed for want of a 
hall, the proprietors of Julien Hall having withdrawn their 
permission. It took more than the timidity of property owners 
to stop Boston's intrepid feminists, led by Mary Parker, 
Theodore's iron-willed sister. They promptly arranged an- 


other meeting for the twenty-first at the society's rooms at 
46 Washington Street. 

By noon of that day five hundred handbills fresh from 
the printer's were circulating in State Street and in the 
hotels and business houses of the city. 


That infamous foreign scoundrel THOMPSON will 
hold forth this afternoon, at the Liberator Office, 
No. 48 Washington Street. The present is a fair 
opportunity for the friends of the Union to snake 
Thompson out! It will be a contest between the 
Abolitionists and the friends of the Union. A purse 
of $100 has been raised by a number of patriotic 
citizens to reward the individual who shall first lay 
violent hands on Thompson, so that he may be 
brought to the tar-kettle before dark. Friends of 
the Union, be vigilant! 

Boston, Wednesday, 12 o'clock. 

The handbill had been designed that morning at the office 
of the Gazette by two merchants, Isaac Stevens and Isaac 
Means, both of whom had signed the call for the Faneuil 
Hall meeting. To make sure of a mob sufficient for their 
purposes they sent one hundred of the handbills to the North 
End, where Irish mechanics could be counted on to treat 
the Englishman as fair game. 

Promptly at two-thirty Garrison arrived at the Washington 
Street office, where he discovered over a hundred men mill- 
ing about outside the building and an equal number lining 
the stairway to the hall on the third floor. Pushing his way 
through the crowd, which offered threats but no violence, he 
took his seat with the twenty-five ladies who comprised the 


Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. When he saw that his 
visitors showed no disposition to leave, he tried a bit of 
sarcasm. "If gentlemen, any of you are ladies in disguise 
why, only apprise me of the fact, give me your name, 
and I will introduce you to the rest of your sex, and you 
can take seats among them accordingly." This shaft wounded 
only the sensibilities of the Boston matrons the crowd 
pressed forward calling for Thompson. Suddenly realizing 
that as the only man at the meeting (Thompson never showed 
up) he might well be chosen to fill the speaker's shoes, he 
retired behind the partition which separated the hall from 
the offices. Here he found Charles C. Burleigh, die Connecti- 
cut abolitionist and friend of Prudence Crandall, and together 
they sat calmly waiting for the mob to disperse. Meanwhile 
the ladies opened their meeting with a prayer. 

Suddenly Mayor Theodore Lyman arrived, posted a hand- 
ful of officers in the doorway, and mounted the stairs. Once 
inside the hall filled with shouting men, he tried to tell 
them that Thompson was not even in the city, but matters 
had already gone too far. The opening prayer was punctuated 
by fists banging on the door of the partition behind which 
Garrison sat writing an account of the "awful, sublime, and 
soul thrilling scene" which he could not see. Mayor Lyman 
turned to the members: "Go home, ladies," he pleaded, "go 

PRESIDENT [Miss Parker] : What renders it necessary 

we should go home? 
MR. LYMAN; I am the mayor of the city, and I 

cannot now explain; but will call on you this 

PRESIDENT: If the ladies will be seated, we will take 

the sense of the meeting. 
MR. LYMAN: Don't stop, ladies, go home. 


The sense of the meeting seemed to be that it would be 
wise to take the mayor's advice. The meeting was adpurned, 
and led by their doughty president, the ladies filed out "amid 
manifestations of revengeful brutaKty." 

With the women gone and Thompson obviously nowhere 
on the premises, the mob began to shout for Garrison and 
meanwhile amused itself by tearing down the anti-slavery sign 
outside* As Burleigh strolled nonchalantly out of the office 
Lyman rushed in and ordered Garrison to leave by a back 
window which opened into a narrow lane. While the mob 
blockaded the front entrance, Garrison slipped out of the 
window,, across the narrow way and into a carpenter shop 
where he climbed into the loft and hid behind a pile of 
lumber. But he had been spotted. Shouting "Lynch him!" and 
"Out with him!" the crowd poured into the shop and up the 
ladder. "On seeing me," Garrison recalled, "three or four 
of the rioters, uttering a yell, furiously dragged me to the 
window, with the intention of hurling me from that height 
to the ground; but one of them relented and said 'Don't 
let us kill him outright.' So they drew me back, and coiled a 
rope about my body probably to drag me through the 
streets." He made the best of his ridiculous posture. Bowing 
konicaJHy from the loft to the men below, he begged their 
indulgence until he could back down the ladder. Once ou the 
ground he was seized by three pairs of friendly arms and 
hustled out into State Street and up to the rear of the City 

Here trouble began. Whatever its intentions up to this 
point Garrison believed that he was headed for the Com- 
mon and a coat of tar the mob realized that once inside 
City Hall he was safe. In a rush on the doorway the rioters 
tried to snatch him and were beaten back by the police only 
after they had ripped the dothes off his back. Garrison re- 


mained serene throughout, perhaps because he had lost his 
glasses and could not see three feet in front of him. Later 
he told friends that he felt "perfectly calm, nay very happy. . . . 
It seemed to me that it was indeed a blessed privilege to 
suffer in the cause of Christ." Mayor Lyman and his deputies, 
less sure of divine interposition than their captive, decided 
to whisk him off to the Leverett Street jail and lock him up 
for safekeeping on the trumped-up charge of disturbing the 
peace. Once again he was bustled out into the street, this 
time to a waiting carriage. While the police officers beat off 
attackers, the driver plied his whip and the hack careened 
out of State Street and into Bowdoin Square headed for the 
jail. Within an hour the mob had disappeared. 

Garrison spent the evening behind bars in a suit of bor- 
rowed clothes chatting with the jailer and receiving his 
friends. In the morning he re-enacted the ritual of the jail 
by inscribing on the walls of the cell a message to posterity. 
That afternoon he was released on condition that he leave 
the city. The same evening, accompanied by Helen, he left 
for Brooklyn. 

From the Benson farm he sent orders to Burleigh and 
Knapp to publish accounts of the riot, and within a few days 
his own version appeared. When the Boston papers obliged 
by blaming the abolitionists for the outburst, charges and 
countercharges filled the press for weeks to come. Fanned 
by regular blasts from the Liberator, the affair smoldered 
throughout the winter. 

Among his friends and followers Garrison's stock rose to 
new heights. They marveled at his courage. "Joy to thee, 
Son of Trial!" exclaimed an unidentified admirer whose 
sonnet graced the columns of the Liberator. Knapp thanked 
God for his partner's preservation "from the fury of a mis- 
guided and ferocious mob." Samuel Sewall congratulated 


him on his escape, but he added that he did not believe 
the mob at any time meant to murder him. Maria Chapman 
thought otherwise. One of the doughty Weston sisters, she 
had married the abolitionist merchant Henry Chapman and 
become the guiding spirit of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery 
Society. It was she who led her companions "each with a 
colored friend" through the mob to her home. Now she 
praised Garrison for his coolness and bravery in the face 
of peril. But there were also rumors of his cowardice, of his 
begging for mercy on his knees, and of his precipitate flight 
from the city. Harriet Martineau, visiting Boston at this 
time and meeting Garrison on his return, thought she de- 
tected a "want of manliness" and an "excessive agitation" 
in him. By this time Garrison, who was enjoying his martyr- 
dom, no doubt had embellished the facts to improve the 
drama. Burleigh, his companion for all but a few minutes of 
that afternoon, testified to his complete composure; and 
Mayor Lyman remembered that he had greeted him with a 
smile. However exaggerated his own accounts of behavior 
may have been, there is no reason to doubt that he followed 
his nonresistance precepts by refusing to escape or defend 
himself. 29 

It was Harriet Martineau who coined the phrase "Martyr 
Age" to describe Garrison's treatment by the Boston mob. 
He thought the phrase "reign of terror" more appropriate. 
"A cloud of infamy a thunder-cloud of heaven's venge- 
ancea cloud of darkness and terror, covers the nation 
like a mighty pall," he wrote three weeks after the affair. 
"Rebellious, ungrateful and blood-thirsty land! how art 
thou fallen even to the lowest depths of degradation and 
sin." 30 It remained for a later generation to put the Boston 
mob in proper perspective. John Jay Chapman suggested the 
need for distinguishing between a "reign of terror" and 


"persecution." "The unpleasantnesses and injustices to which 
the Abolitionists were subjected," Chapman wrote, "never 
justified a literal application of the terms 'martyr/ ^reign 
of terror/ etc.; but the word 'persecution' is most aptly used 
to describe their sufferings, if we reflect that there are perse- 
cutions which do not result in death." 31 Prudence Crandall's 
discomfort at the hands of the people of Canterbury hardly 
qualified her as a martyr, nor were Birney's experiences in 
Cincinnati or Weld's treatment in the villages of Ohio part 
of a concerted reign of terror. The buffeting Garrison re- 
ceived from Irish workmen in State Street could hardly 
compare with Elijah Lovejoy's tragic defense of his press 
two years later in Alton, Illinois. But democratic society 
does not always resort to the coil of rope and the flaming 
cross to discourage unpopular opinions. Often a few well- 
aimed stones or a handful of efficient hecklers are more than 
enough. Almost all of the anti-abolitionist episodes had their 
antic aspects and their lunatic participants. Beneath the sur- 
face comedy, however, there lay in the silent hostility of the 
many and the compulsive hates of the few a major threat 
to free institutions. The Garrison mob was not simply a col- 
lection of pranksters; it was an irrational force capable of 
destroying democracy. It was the abolitionists' success in 
touching the consciences of their fellow citizens that ulti- 
mately saved them. 

Hie Garrison mob brought about such an awakening of 
conscience in Boston. "Happily one point seems already to 
be gaining universal assent," the merchant Francis Jackson 
wrote to Samuel May in November, 1835, "that slavery 
cannot long survive free discussion. ... As slavery cannot 
exist with free discussion so neither can liberty breathe 
without it. Losing this, we too shall be no longer free men 
indeed, but little if at all superior to the millions we now 


seek to emancipate." Other men of property and standing 
in Boston were coming to the same conclusion. They had been 
made to see that however obstinate and shortsighted the 
abolitionists might be, their cause was inextricably woven 
into the fabric of free society. From his new law office in 
Court Street, Wendell Phillips, the young Boston patrician, 
looked down on the mob dragging Garrison through the 
streets and resolved then and there to join his cause. The 
twenty-four-year-old Phillips was the wealthy son of Bos- 
ton's first mayor and a graduate of Harvard, where he had 
hobnobbed with the sons of Southern planters and joined 
all the best clubs. Tall, slim, with a ruddy complexion, 
Grecian features and wavy blond hair combed back over his 
high forehead, he was the picture of studied negligence, 
Boston's ideal of the aristocrat. At Harvard he had studied 
rhetoric with the famed Edward Channing, who taught him 
to hate purple prose and rely on the natural power of hs 
magnificent voice and muscular mind. Along with money 
Phillips had inherited a strong social conscience, and it was 
this combination of wealth and moral commitment that 
drove him to play the patrician agitator, the reformer who 
could afford to throw himself into an unpopular cause and 
casually dismiss his notoriety. His acquisition was a godsend 
to Garrison. Serving his chief with loyalty and devotion until 
the very outbreak of war, he brought with him an energy 
and drive, a talent for agitation, and a voice that made him 
the greatest of the anti-slavery orators. 

Henry Bowditch and George B. Emerson, sons of old 
families and beneficiaries of Boston's Golden Age, came 
over to anti-slavery. Even William Ellery Channing, finally 
convinced that he should speak out, hurried his Thoughts on 
Slavery into print. A plain Connecticut farmer, Henry C. 
Wright, who became Garrison's most devoted disciple, made 


his anti-slavery debut in a series of letters to the Liberator 
indicting the city officials and the business community. 
Orson Murray in Vermont and Nathaniel Rogers in New 
Hampshire promised to spread immediate emancipation in 
their states. 

These new men represented different types of the New 
England character the cultured Bostonian of old family 
whose conscience overthrew his sense of class, and the in- 
dependent son of yeoman stock whose militant Protestantism 
drove him to abolition as the first step in the millennial ex- 
periment. But not even Garrison could unite Boston and the 
backwoods. The events of the next few years disclosed 
a rift in Garrisonism which piety and unction could not 

All this lay in the future. From the aftermath of the 
Boston riot there emerged a new attitude in New England 
which eventually created a Northern mind. Although there 
would be no more Garrison mobs, the conviction that slavery 
threatened democracy was not widely held in 1835, and in 
this sense Garrison's work was just beginning. But now he 
had new recruits who realized better than he that the anti- 
slavery cause transcended the personality of its leader. 

"Our Doom as a Nation Is Sealed" 

IN THE QUIET OF the Benson farmhouse, where he and his 
wife retired after his encounter with the Boston mob, 
Garrison took time to reflect on the progress of moral reform. 
"Much as my mind is absorbed in the anti-slavery cause," 
he confessed to his sister-in-law Anna, "there are other great 
subjects that frequently occupy my thoughts, upon which 
much light remains to be thrown, and which are of the 
utmost importance to the temporal and eternal welfare 
of man." 1 The peace cause, the status of women, the Sab- 
bath question, temperance, home missions all of these proj- 
ects he had flung aside for the hectic work of organizing 
abolition in New England. It was time to pick up the loose 
threads once more in the hope of making a pattern of Chris- 
tian reform. Of all his interests the nonresistance cause seemed 
most important now. His pacifist beliefs had been on trial 
that day in October as he stumbled along State Street towed 
by the mob. By refusing to fight back he had tested his 
principles, found them sound, and could recommend them 
now as a model of Christian behavior. "I am more and more 
convinced," he told Anna Benson, "that it is the duty of the 
followers of Christ to suffer themselves to be defrauded, 
calumniated, and barbarously treated, without resorting either 
to their own physical energies, or to the force of human law, 


for restitution and punishment." His clash with Boston's 
outraged sensibilities had put a new edge on his old hunger 
for holiness. Admittedly, slavery was only part of the problem 
of human evil why not cure all sin by following the ex- 
ample of Christ? Peace and perfection gospel truths and 
God's prescription for the sins of the world. A radical cure, 
no doubt, but certain. As he began collecting his anti- 
slavery forces scattered by the October riot, the image of the 
Master forgiving sinful man and offering peace remained 
deeply etched in his mind. 

He had been reluctant to leave the city but there was no 
other choice. The house in Brighton Street, which he took 
in order to be nearer his office, was proving far more costly 
than Freedom's Cottage. Then, too, his health had suffered 
from irregular hours and jangled nerves, and Helen con- 
stantly worried about his safety in the streets. She was ex- 
pecting her first child a son born in February, 1836, whom 
they named George Thompson Garrison. Thompson himself 
was gone, smuggled out of the city on the Saint John packet. 
The Liberator undoubtedly would have to be suspended un- 
less Knapp worked a miracle, Although the mob had not 
ventured near the office, the owners of Merchants Hall, 
unwilling to oifer provocation, had ordered Knapp to clear 
out. Knapp and Burleigh withdrew, taking with them all of 
their stock and what little money there was, but not before 
their creditors, sensing the Liberator's end had come, flocked 

Knapp managed to pay the debts, but an audit revealed a 
hopeless tangle in the accounts. The financial snarl caused 
raised eyebrows among some members of the society who 
undertook to reprimand Garrison for his laxity. "I am in- 
clined to think,' 3 he complained in return, "that our friends, 
wholly ignorant as they are, generally respecting the losses 


and crosses of every newspaper concern, more or less, hardly 
do us justice as to our past management. I admit that we 
have not been methodical or sharp in keeping our accounts. 
. . . We have not squandered or misapplied, but, on the 
contrary, as a whole, been careful of our means/' 2 Still, it 
was with relief that he learned of the decision to torn the 
financial responsibility for the paper over to Knapp and 
leave him free to manage the editorial work on a salary sup- 
plied by Loring and Sewall. He was happy to return to the 
more congenial task of baiting moderate abolitionists. 

In November, 1835, William Ellery Channing's Slavery 
appeared in time to underscore the reaction of Bostonians to 
militant abolitionism, for Channing spoke with the authority 
of a veteran opponent of slavery. At the time of Lundy's 
first visit to Boston in 1828 he was already criticizing slavery 
while at the same time emphasizing the dangers of alienating 
the slaveholders. "It seems to me," he wrote to Daniel Web- 
ster in that year, u that, before moving in this matter, we 
ought to say to them distinctly, We consider slavery as 
your calamity, not your crime, and we will share with you 
the burden of putting an end to it.' " Ten years had scarcely 
altered this view. Although he subscribed to the Liberator, 
he had never approved of Garrison's "showy, noisy mode of 
action." His scholarly habits and aristocratic tastes led him 
to prefer the language of reason to the enthusiasm of agita- 
tors who seemed to him to display more will than brains. 
The Southern counteroffensive against civil liberties height- 
ened his disapproval of slaveowners but did not moderate his 
opinion of the abolitionists. In 1835 he told a friend that 
were he to publish his criticisms of slavery, he would feel 
bound not only to defend the abolitionists' rights but to en- 
large on what he deemed their errors. 

True to his promise, Channing examined the positions of 


slaveholders and abolitionists in his essay and found both of 
them wanting in common sense and Christian charity. He 
began by establishing "a first, fundamental truth a hu- 
man being cannot rightfully be held and used as property." 
From this principle he proceeded to other natural rights 
the right to seek knowledge, to better one's condition, to live 
as a member of a community under the equal protection of 
the law rights violated by slavery. The initiative in remov- 
ing slavery, however, he was prepared to leave to the slave- 
owner, who alone "has the intimate knowledge of the char- 
acter and habits of the slave." Abolitionists he thought 
culpable on two counts: first, for hastily adopting the un- 
workable formula of immediate emancipation, and secondly, 
for indulging in irrational propaganda. The abolitionists, he 
said, had done great mischief, nor was this mischief to be 
winked at simply because it had been done with the best of 
intentions. The anti-slavery party had fallen into the common 
error of enthusiasts of taking a too narrow view and believing 
that there was no other sin than the one they denounced. The 
cause of the slave required zeal, but also the wisdom of 
moderation. The abolitionists had only stirred "bitter passions 
and a fierce fanaticism" which shut every ear and every heart 
against the voice of conscience. 

Many of the abolitionists, though "grieved at some few 
censures," as Ellis Gray Loring explained, agreed with him 
in pronouncing "nineteen twentieths" of Channing's book 
sound in principle. A private dissenter was John Quincy 
Adams, who objected to the "Jesuitical complexion" of Chan- 
ning's arguments. "The wrong or crime of slavery is set forth 
in all its most odious colors," Adams noted in his diary, "and 
then the explanation disclaims all imputation of criminality 
upon the slaveholders." Adams's doubts were echoed loudly 
in the Liberator, which dismissed the author as an "Ishmael- 


ite" and the pamphlet as "an inflated, inconsistent and slander- 
ous production. ... a work in active collision with itself." 3 
After appropriating every one of the abolitionists' arguments, 
Garrison complained, Channing neutralized their force by 
impugning their methods. "He modestly asks us to give up 
our watchword Immediate Emancipation, 7 to disband our 
societies, and to keep our publications from slaveholders." 
What sort of give-and-take nonsense was this? The source 
of Channing's heresy, he argued, was his foolish belief that 
men were not always to be judged by their acts or institutions. 
From this delusion it followed that slaveowners, far from 
being the miserable sinners they appeared, might be thought 
to act from disinterested motives of benevolence! The cardi- 
nal point in immediate emancipation, on the other hand, was 
its identification of slavery as sin. Sin allowed of no degrees; 
no plan was needed to stop sinning. But Channing exonerated 
the sinner he divorced the sinner from his sin. His work, 
therefore, was "utterly destitute of any redeeming, reform- 
ing power," "calumnious, contradictory and unsound." Such 
timeservers the abolitionists could well do without. 

Garrison recognized Channing's pamphlet for what it was 
a threat to the continued control of the pioneer anti-slavery 
men. As a liberal Channing was unable to remain silent any 
longer; as a moderate he was unwilling to swallow immediate 
abolition. To the Garrisonians his moderation seemed at best 
a shuffling policy. "The plain English of the whole of it," 
Amos Phelps, Garrison's choleric friend, complained, "is this, 
that he and he is but one of a hundred such can't keep still 
any longer on the subject, but cannot bear to come out on 
the subject without taking sundry exceptions, just to 'save 
their skins' from the kicks we have had to take, as well as to 
seem to have some justification for their long and guilty 
silence." 4 The real issue, however, lay deeper than Phelps 


realized. It was this: Could anti-slavery, born in religious 
radicalism and nurtured by the New Theology of Beecher 
and Finney, withstand an accession of the moderates? Could 
it relinquish the notion of slavery as a sin and retain its 
purity? Could the abolitionist sect become a church without 
endangering its principles, let the unregenerate in without 
undermining its holy work? In short, could abolition survive 
success? Garrison thought not. Channing cried for moderation 
and understanding, but the Declaration of Sentiments of the 
national society branded slavery a sin. Channing proposed 
reflection and study, and meanwhile the slave languished in- 

Channing represented a way of life that was hostile to 
evangelicalism. A man of breeding, he was first and last an 
intellectual who distrusted undirected moral energy. He be- 
lieved in intelligence and leisure, education, good taste and 
social poise all that was most suspect in the view of one who 
had been raised on the meager intellectual fare of the evange- 
lists Moreover, status meant more to Garrison than he would 
admit. The reverse side of his myth of the self-made man 
dxowed a seme of social inferiority tinged with envy. Al- 
though he worked closely with Boston patricians m the next 
few years with Wendell Phillips, Edmund Quincy, Ellis 
Gray Loring, Henry Bowditch the alliances were not of 
his making and the teriBS were always his own. Such a sur- 
render could not be expected from Channing, in whose work 
Garrison sensed a note of social superiority. To Channing the 
Garrisonians were pious fools with violent impulses which 
sprang from too much goodness and too little lucidity. They 
were men who chose passion instead of reason which was die 
mark of a true morality. Garrison, on the other hand, viewed 
ChatTitirtg as the potential Judas of Christkn reform, a timid 
dtc^-phiiosopher half afraid of his awn beliefs. He seemed 


to personify in his passivity the dangers of too much think- 
ing. Of the two, Channing was perhaps the better judge of 
character and certainly the more magnanimous, for it was 
he who made the first tentative gesture of friendship. In 
March, 1836, he attended the hearings of the Lunt Com- 
mittee, which had been appointed by the Massachusetts legis- 
lature to investigate the need for a gag law against the aboli- 
tionists, and in front of the assembled legislators approached 
Garrison and took his hand. Only the most sanguine of the 
anti-slavery men, however, believed that the gesture symbol- 
ized a new alliance between the Garrisonians and an emergent 
Northern liberalism. 

The Lunt Committee was the Massachusetts answer to 
Southern clamor against the abolitionists. At the suggestion 
of Governor Everett a joint committee was appointed to 
consider a law curtailing anti-slavery publications and meet- 
ings. Immediately the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (as 
the old New England Society was now called) requested a 
hearing, which was held on March 4, 1836. At their briefing: 
sessions the society chose their speakers carefully. The bur- 
den of their case was carried by Loring, Sewall, and Follen y 
the first two respectable if not brilliant speakers, the last an 
eloquent and persuasive lecturer. The gallery of the Chamber 
of Representatives was packed with members of the society 
and anti-slavery sympathizers. All went well at the first hear- 
ing as long as Loring and Sewall held the floor, but when 
Follen mounted the rostrum and unleashed an attack on the 
"mobocrats" of Boston and their "blood-hounds" who made 
the streets of Boston unsafe, Chairman George Lunt lost pa- 
tience. u Stop sir! You may not pursue this course of remark. 
It is insulting to the committee and to the Legislature which 
they represent." Forbidden to continue, Follen sat down, the 
abolitionists flatly refused to proceed, and the hearing was 


adjourned. Next day the society drew up a memorial to the 
legislature complaining of the uncivil treatment they had re- 
ceived and demanding a free and open hearing, which de- 
mand was granted and a second hearing arranged. At the 
new hearing the Garrisonians fared little better. William 
Goodell, Garrison's waspish companion in the days of the 
National Philanthropist, arrived from New York and was 
quickly added to the list of speakers. Goodell had lost none 
of his bite since he and Garrison, seven years before, had 
argued the merits of colonization; and he immediately took 
the offensive by charging the committee with a "foul con- 
spiracy" to subvert American freedom, only to be shut off by 
Lunt. Unnerved by its encounter with professional agitators, 
the committee adjourned never to meet again. Though it 
censured the anti-slavery party, the Lunt Committee failed 
to recommend measures for controlling their activities. Free 
speech had won a notable victory. 

Garrison's remarks at the hearing, sandwiched in between 
the heavy arguments of Loring and Sewall, went almost un- 
noticed in the ensuing uproar. Those who troubled to listen 
caught a new note of sectionalism in his reference to Ameri- 
can civil liberties. "Sir, we loudly boast of our free country, 
and of the Union of these States. Yet I have no country! As 
a New Englander, and as an abolitionist, I am excluded by 
a bloody proscription from one-half of the national territory. 
. . . Where is our Union? , . . The right of free and safe 
locomotion from one part of the land to the other is denied 
to us, except at the peril of our lives! . . . Therefore it is, 
I assert, that the Union is now virtually dissolved." 6 

Virtually but not actually. Garrison was not a disunionist 
yet: although he indulged freely in propaganda and prophecy, 
he was not ready to admit that the Constitution was a pro- 
slavery document. Like most of the abolitionists, he had 


veered with the winds of political change, first denouncing 
the Constitution as a "heaven-daring compact" and a "corrupt 
bargain" and then discovering in the Congressional power 
over the District of Columbia a beacon for Southern states. 
Reluctantly he had come to accept the best abolitionist opin- 
ion that Congress had no power to regulate slavery in the 
states. As hope for effective state action receded in the 
Thirties, however, and the abolitionists began to doubt their 
ability to convert the South, they recognized the need for 
capturing the Constitution. How much more effective their 
campaign would be, how much more important the petition 
and the vote, if they could prove that the Constitution was 
really an anti-slavery document. If it encompassed the aboli- 
tion of slavery throughout the Union, then abolitionists in 
agitating for immediate action were only demanding due 
enforcement of fundamental law. A tidy syllogism, simple, 
unhistorical, and unrealistic. It was a measure of his deep 
concern with politics in an election year that despite his pre- 
dictions of disunion Garrison recognized the importance of 
an anti-slavery interpretation of the Constitution and tried to 
achieve one. 

The task he set himself that of producing a consistent 
reading of the Constitution was beyond his powers, for it 
required the kind of reasoned historical method which he had 
always disparaged. In the next few years other abolitionists, 
better equipped and more persevering, worked out dozens of 
theories of the unconstitutionality of slavery, all of them in- 
genious, none of them convincing. In 1836, however, Garri- 
son was pioneering in a juridical wilderness with no compass 
to guide him. That he soon lost his bearings is hardly as sur- 
prising as that he should have attempted the discovery at all. 

He found his clue to the anti-slavery character of the 
Constitution in the preamble, which, he announced, "pre- 


supposes oppression and slavery, in any and every form, 
wholly unwarrantable, and consequently is a warrant for a 
general emancipation of the slaves." Emancipation as implied 
in the preamble ought to be the work, not of Congress nor 
yet of the state legislatures, but of "the people of each State, 
and of the several States/' presumably gathered in special 
convention. As for Article IV, Section 2, which provides for 
the return of persons held to service and labor, this clause 
does not apply to slaves because by law slaves are not "per- 
sons" but "things." By the Constitution American slavery is 
a thing unknown every bondsman is therefore a freeman! 
"The conclusion, then, to which people of the free States 
must corne, is this that southern slavery is a violation of the 
United States Constitution, that it must be resisted as such." 6 
He granted that this new reading of the Constitution marked 
a departure from his initial views. "We have often had occa- 
sion to speak of the wickedness of the national compact," he 
conceded but added quickly that his denunciation had been 
"extorted in view of the construction which has been put 
upon certain articles in the Constitution of the United States, 
by the supreme and inferior courts by the physical co- 
operation of the free States to keep the slaves in bondage 
and by the tacit recognition of slavery which was made on 
the adoption of the Constitution, between the several States." 
Now with a proper understanding of the Constitution, the 
abolitionists had only to uphold the fundamental law of the 
land. In a single stroke he had legitimized abolition and com- 
mitted his followers to political action. 

First and most important in his program of constitutional 
action was the vote with which abolitionists could organize 
a Christian party in politics "not made up of this or that sect 
or denomination, but of all who fear God and keep his com- 
mandments and who sincerely desire to seek judgment and 


relieve the oppressed." Politics was admittedly a dirty busi- 
ness and weak men might be tempted to sell their principles 
for political gain. But changing the world meant accepting 
the realities of political power. "I know it is a belief of many 
professedly good men," he had written in 1834, "that they 
ought not to 'meddle' with politics; but they are cherishing a 
delusion, which, if it do not prove fatal to their own souls, 
may prove the destruction of the country." 7 However logical 
the use of the ballot now seemed to him, there were those 
abolitionists in 1836 to whom it was a snare. They argued 
that from its inception the anti-slavery movement had been a 
moral crusade, and they cited Garrison's own Declaration of 
Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society, which 
nowhere mentioned the duty to vote, as proof that the found- 
ers had not meant to rely on the whims of mere politicians. 
Impatiently Garrison brushed these objections aside with 
the remark that since he had drawn up the declaration, he 
might be assumed "competent to give an exposition of its 
doctrines." 8 The founders had clearly intended that both 
moral suasion and the franchise be brought to bear on slavery. 
Arguments without votes, he insisted, accomplished nothing. 
To show the extent of his political commitment he sup- 
ported Amasa Walker, the Democratic candidate for a Con- 
gressional seat, against the conservative Whig, Abbott Law- 
rence. "Ordinarily, I perceive little intelligence, and scarcely 
any conscience, or honesty, or fear of God, at the polls," he 
admitted to Boston's Negro voters. "The politics of this na- 
tion, at the present time, are corrupt, prescriptive, and even 
ferocious." 9 The Whig cause, which he used to think "essen- 
tially a good one," had fallen to the trimmer Clay; and Jack- 
sonian Democracy, conceived in iniquity and unbelief, was 
slavery's behemoth. Nevertheless, it behooved abolitionists 
to study the Southern stratagem and, as he explained, "to be 


competent fully to unravel its political relations and hearings. 
. . . Although we may not, in the technical sense of the term, 
become politicians ourselves, yet it is vastly important that 
we should watch, and expose mere politicians such men as 
Van Buren, Calhoun, Pinckney, and the like and the latest 
movements of the State and National Governments, in their 
opposition to inalienable human rights should be made mani- 
fest before all the people." 10 

As the Presidential campaign entered the summer of 1836 
and the election in Massachusetts narrowed to a choice be- 
tween the Little Magician and the trimmer Daniel Webster, 
Garrison understood for the first time the nature of the aboli- 
tionist dilemma. "Political abolitionists are now placed in an 
awkward predicament," he admitted to his friends. 11 Both 
candidates had come out against abolition and had tried to 
check the spread of anti-slavery influence. How could an aboli- 
tionist vote for either of them? "To this I reply," Garrison 
wrote a week before the election, "it is not necessary that they 
should cast their votes in favor of any Presidential candidates, 
nor do we see how they can properly do so." 12 True aboli- 
tionists belonged to no party or sect; they had emancipated 
themselves once and for all from political shibboleths and 
sectarian fetters. Abolition alone claimed their loyalty, and 
"this cause they can never abandon, or put in peril, on any 
pretext whatever." Since both parties had officially declared 
their hostility to anti-slavery, reformers must be wary "lest 
they be seduced from their integrity of character by political 
intrigue" even if it meant relinquishing their right to vote. 
Such was the origin of the revolution in the Garrisonian at- 
titude which was to end a few years later in the doctrine of 
disunion. Faced with a decision that involved choosing the 
lesser of two evils a cardinal rule in democratic politics 
Garrison refused to take the step which he believed an aban- 


donment of principle. In thus committing his followers to a 
boycott of elections he was in effect challenging the demo- 
cratic process. His theory of disunion did not appear in all 
its splendid simplicity for two years, but the decision to 
"come out" from a corrupt society was the result of his dis- 
illusionment with the Presidential campaign of 1836. Hence- 
forth the main avenue of political reform remained closed to 
Garrison and those like him who preferred righteousness to 

For a while during the election year it seemed that an 
alternative political route lay through Congress, where peti- 
tions might do the work of ballots. Garrison had pioneered 
in the organized use of the anti-slavery petition in Vermont 
back in 1828 and was well aware of its advantages. In the 
first place, the right of petition was guaranteed in the Consti- 
tution: Congress was obliged to receive petitions and to take 
some kind of action, however unfavorable, which meant in- 
valuable publicity for the abolitionists. Then, too, petitions 
were cheap, easy to circulate, and effective in bringing the 
slavery question before the country. Garrison's first petition 
campaign in 1828-1829 had provoked a lengthy and acri- 
monious debate in the House before the members rejected 
abolition of slavery in the District as inexpedient and danger- 
ous. The advantages of a petition flood were too obvious to 
be ignored. 

He was not alone in recognizing the possibilities of the 
petition. The national society, disappointed by the meager 
results shown by the anti-slavery pamphlet, was turning to 
what everyone agreed was a more economical and effective 
propaganda device. By the middle of the decade pamphlets 
had proved a costly failure. To be sure, they had won the 
support of a few liberals chiefly concerned with civil liberties, 
but this gain had been more than nullified by the problems 


of cost and waste. No pamphlet paid for itself, distribution 
was haphazard, and agents seldom knew whether the thou- 
sands of tracts they scattered over the countryside were even 
read. Petitions, on the other hand, were economical and 
effective. As local and state societies took up the strategy 
in earnest, the number of petitions forwarded to Congress, 
twenty thousand in 1836, jumped to over three hundred 
thousand two years later. Petitions against the foreign-slave 
trade, petitions for the abolition of slavery in the District of 
Columbia, petitions against the admission of new slave states, 
even petitions asserting the right of petition. A deluge of 
signatures poured into Congress in a steadily increasing vol- 
ume until the Senate and House of Representatives finally 
found a way to divert the flood they could not shut off. 

At first Garrison supported the petition campaign with 
enthusiasm. He gave orders to Knapp "to make everything 
give way (communications, editorials, and all) to the debates 
in Congress upon the petitions." 13 Feverishly he directed their 
distribution and collection, and gloated over the increasing 
number of signatures. "Send me your petitions to Congress," 
he ordered George Benson in January, 1836. " 'Keep the 
mill a-going,' as the saying is. The blustering of the southern 
members in Congress is ludicrous enough. The knaves and 
cowards!" 14 In April, when a bill for the admission of Arkan- 
sas stalled in the House, he hastily collected and forwarded 
petitions to keep it there. His enthusiasm waned, however, 
when the Southern caucus in Congress rallied to retaliate. As 
early as January, John C. Calhoun, sensing the need for a 
countermeasure against petitions, urged his colleagues to meet 
the danger now before it was too late. Thereupon he moved 
to table all anti-slavery petitions as "a foul slander on nearly 
one-half of the states of the Union." After a heated debate 
Calhoun's motion was replaced by a compromise offered by 


James Buchanan of Pennsylvania which avoided outright de- 
nial of the right of petition by providing for the reception of 
all anti-slavery petitions coupled with a rejection of their 
contents. Buchanan's rule became standard Senate procedure 
for dealing with the abolitionists. The House had John 
Quincy Adams to contend with, and Adams waged a one- 
man war against the "gag rule." Over his protests a special 
committee of the House reported three resolutions drawn up 
by its chairman, Henry Laurens Pinckney of South Carolina. 
The first denied the power of Congress to abolish slavery in 
the states; the second declared that slavery in the District of 
Columbia should be left alone; and the third provided that 
"all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers 
relating in any way to any extent to the subject of slavery 
shall, without being printed or referred, be laid upon the 
table and that no further action whatever be taken thereon." 
The Pinckney gag became the first of a series of gag rules 
designed to meet the abolitionist challenge. Not even Adams's 
parliamentary skill could prevent this biennial infringement 
of civil liberties: a gag rule was passed at the beginning of 
each new session until finally, in 1845 at t h e height of the 
Mexican crisis, the last of them was repealed. By that time 
Garrison was well down the road to disunion in his retreat 
from politics a withdrawal that began with the Pinckney 
resolutions in 1836. 

From the White House, where Demon Democracy was to 
rule for four more years, and from a Congress dominated 
by apostate Pinckneys and Calhouns, Garrison turned hope- 
fully to the church only to find theocratic conservatism in 
the person of Lyman Beecher in the pulpit. In 1836 Beecher 
still dreamed of a Christian America united in a single Protes- 
tant church, and he was still determined to ignore any social 
issue too thorny to be settled by love and charity. Beecher's 


difficulties proceeded from his bland assumption that no dif- 
ferences were too great to be reconciled by a strong and 
united church. He easily identified the chief dangers to the 
country - "political atheism," "power-thirsty politicians," 
"the corrupting influence of preeminent prosperity," and 
"universality of the suffrage." To combat these unwholesome 
influences he invoked the power of church institutions, an 
educated clergy, and, above all, the authority of the Bible. 
In the summer of 1836 he delivered a ringing defense of the 
divinity of the Sabbath as the moral sun of the universe and 
God's instrument for man's salvation. The fourth command- 
ment, as he explained it, emerged as the sublime ordering 
principle of Christian life, a moral law enforced by a learned 
clergy and offering the only permanent solution to the prob- 
lems of democratic society. Beecher's sermon sounded the 
call to the conservative clergy to meet the challenge of Garri- 
son and his race of "impudent young men" whose defiance 
of church law and clerical authority presaged a new age of 

Garrison seized on Beecher's sermon as a lever with which 
to pry open the whole question of slavery and the church* 
It was not just that the good doctor's language was "extrava- 
gant and preposterous," he complained. Beecher offered no 
Scriptural authority for the divinity of the Sabbath. Even 
more serious was Beecher's hidebound conservatism drawn 
from the letter of the law rather than the spirit of Christ, his 
program to make "the outward observance of one day of the 
week ... of paramount importance to every thing else in 
the moral and spiritual world, instead of being subordinate 
and cooperative." 15 True Christianity required the "service 
of God, who is a spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and 
in truth," but Beecher and the theocrats believed that law 
might do the work of spirit. They were loud, earnest, and 


eloquent in behalf of the sanctity of institutions, yet timid 
and apprehensive on the question of human rights. "Let men 
consecrate to the service of Jehovah not merely one day in 
seven, but all their time, thoughts, actions and powers/' Not 
outward observance but inner light. "If men will put on 
Christ," Garrison concluded, "they may be as free as their 
Master, and he is Lord even of the Sabbath day." 

These strictures not unnaturally stirred the New England 
clergy to wonder and protest. "Free as their Master" did 
Garrison mean freedom from sin, the attainment of perfec- 
tion? Letters poured into the Liberator office complaining of 
the editor's veiled language and deploring his apparently 
heretical notions. "As I anticipated, my remarks upon the 
sanctity of the Sabbath, in the Liberator, are subjecting me 
to much censure, particularly among the pious opposers of 
the anti-slavery cause," Garrison remarked acidly. The New 
Hampshire Patriot, Vermont Chronicle, Christian Mirror, and 
Boston Recorder denounced him as a "monster" and an "in- 
fidel," simply because he held that all time should be devoted 
to the service of God and the good of mankind, because he 
believed that "the real children of God 'do enter into rest' 
here on earth, without being necessitated to wait for a respite 
until eternity dawns." 16 Under fire from a hostile press and 
the conservatives in the Massachusetts Society, he agreed to 
leave the Sabbath question alone and return to anti-slavery. 
It was a promise he could not keep: his investigation of "that 
pernicious and superstitious notion" had precipitated a con- 
flict with the churches that lasted his lifetime. 

His estrangement from the church, like the retreat from 
politics, was the result of a profound disillusionment. He was 
convinced that the country needed more practical righteous- 
ness, more benevolent societies and good works. Instead of 
attacking slavery, capital punishment, the land problem, and 


the other social evils of the day, the churches and the clergy 
were indulging in doctrinal disputes, endless polemics and 
theological hairsplitting. As the Great Revival smoldered out 
there arose a new spirit of sectarian exclusiveness and denomi- 
nationalism. The years after 1835 saw a clerical reaction to 
revivalism which produced rifts in all of the major Protestant 
denominations as the conservatives seized control of their 
churches once more. In 1837 after a series of heresy trials, 
the Old School Presbyterians finally succeeded in driving out 
over half of their membership for doctrinal deviation. The 
General Conference of the Methodist Church voted in 1836 
to prohibit the discussion of slavery on the grounds that the 
only "safe, Scriptural and prudent way" for their members 
was "wholly to refrain from the agitating subject which is 
now convulsing the country." The decision, which led Garri- 
son to denounce the conference as "a cage of unclean birds, 
and a synagogue of Satan," eventually provoked a number of 
desertions that culminated in the great secession of 1845. The 
Baptist Church suffered from similar desertions as the majority 
of their clergy showed little inclination to lead their congre- 
gations against slavery. Conservative forces and sectional pres- 
sures were beginning to crack the fagade of Protestantism. 

Garrison saw only the Christian logic of the situation. He 
had grown up with the evangelical beliefs that everything lay 
within the province of Christianity and that churches were 
God's agents for purifying society. Since evil was one, and 
all sins were related, the Christian solution meant applying 
Christian principles to daily life. It was as simple as that. As 
voluntary associations of true Christians the churches ought 
to lead the way in reforming society. Instead they were 
ignoring their responsibilities and neglecting all the "great 
subjects" of the age. "Oh the rottenness of Christendom," he 
wrote to May. "Judaism and Romanism are the leading 


features of Protestantism. I am forced to believe that, as it 
respects the greater portion of professing Christians in this 
country, Christ has died in vain. In their traditions, their 
forms, their vain j anglings, their self -righteousness, their will- 
worship, their sectarian zeal and devotion, their infallibility 
and exclusiveness, they are Pharisees and Saducees, they are 
Papists and Jews." 17 Far from encouraging good works and 
personal holiness, the churches were erecting defenses against 
it by isolating their congregations from the world of sin and 
substituting worship for good works. The message of Christ 
was being buried beneath the rubble of ritualism. "We shall 
not be able to exclaim, 'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, 
where is thy victory?' until we have died first unto sin 
crucified the old man with his lusts put on the new man 
who is after Christ and risen in spirit with Him who is able 
to save all who believe in Him. He in whom the Saviour 
dwells can never be surprised by calamity or death he has 
entered into rest, even while in the flesh." 18 

"Putting on Christ," "dying unto sin," "entering into rest" 
these were the concepts of perfectionism, the vocabulary 
of the preachers of human perfectibility. They were also the 
words of the Vermont visionary John Humphrey Noyes, 
who visited Garrison in the spring of 1837 and by converting 
him to perfectionism helped change the course of his anti- 
slavery crusade. 

Christian perfectionism, the doctrine of personal holiness, 
taught that by accepting Christ men could become literally 
perfect. When men leave off sinning and accept Christ, so the 
perfectionists believed, henceforth it is Christ who acts in 
them and thus sin becomes an impossibility. In the routine of 
their daily lives they can achieve this sinlessness if they only 
want to, save their souls and at the same time regenerate so- 
ciety. Perfectionism erected a whole social ethic on the simple 


command, "Be ye perfect even as your heavenly Father is 
perfect," and with it proposed to make heaven on earth. 

Perfectionist doctrine appeared in many guises in the United 
States after 1830: in the preaching of Finney and his Oberlin 
followers; in the spiritual communings of zealots in New 
York's Burned-Over District; and, in its most complete form, 
in the teachings of John Humphrey Noyes. Although it 
seemed to reflect Jacksonian beliefs in progress and the mis- 
sion of America, in reality perfectionism received its inspira- 
tion from the gospel of love and the Second Great Awaken- 
ing. Its origins lay in the New Theology of Finney and the 
New Haven School and in the conviction that "obligation 
and ability are commensurate." Its initial premise was the 
total freedom of man to follow Christ. Unlike Jacksonian 
Democracy with its laissez-faire principles, perfectionism was 
essentially exclusive, severe, and, in its final appeal, authori- 
tarian. The perfectionists caught the vision of a holy life in 
the sermons of the Great Revival and, by focusing sharply 
on the experience of conversion, distorted the dream into a 
millenarian fantasy. As originally propounded by Finney, 
perfectionism meant simply a striving for holiness. Finney 
defined the true Christian as one who preferred the glory of 
God to his own selfish interests, and sanctification as "the 
strength, firmness and perpetuity of this preference." By this 
he did not mean a state of absolute freedom from sin but 
only what he called an "assurance of faith" when men "ha- 
bitually live without sin and fall into sin at intervals so few 
and far between that, in strong language, it may be said in 
truth they do not sin." Thus perfection became for Finney 
an approximable goal rather than a final achievement an 
ideal to be pursued but never completely attained. In this 
same spirit his followers at Oberlin preached perfectionism 
as a prolonged act of dedication and denounced as "misguided 


fanatics" those who "having begun in the spirit ... try to 
become perfect in the flesh." Such parading of one's purity 
seemed to them to savor more of carnal will than divine grace 
and a second blessing. 

John Humphrey Noyes was perplexed by the halfway 
doctrines of Finney and the hesitant affirmations of the New 
Haven School. As a student at Yale he imbibed a draught of 
free will that sent his literalist mind spinning. If Christ is 
perfect and men are wholly free to follow his example, he 
reasoned, then they may become perfect not in a metaphorical 
sense of the word but in becoming actual partakers of the 
divine nature and sharing in Christ's victory over sin and 
death. "Faith identifies the soul with Christ," he explained, 
"so that by His death and resurrection the believer dies and 
rises again, not literally, nor yet figuratively, but spiritually; 
and thus, so far as sin is concerned, is placed beyond the 
grave, in heavenly places with Christ." Noyes had received 
his second blessing in a Leonard Street boardinghouse in 
New York where, in a fevered state and near insanity, he 
experienced a "spiritual crucifixion" not as spectator but as 
victim. "And at last the Lord met me with the same promise 
that gave peace to my soul when I first came out of Egypt: 
*if thou wilt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and 
shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the 
dead, thou shalt be saved.' By faith I took the proffered boon 
of eternal life. God's spirit sealed the act, and the blood of 
Christ cleansed me from sin." Soon word spread through 
New Haven that "Noyes says he's perfect." 19 This indeed 
was the gist of the message which he came to Boston to tell 

At the time of his meeting with Garrison in 1837 Noyes 
was still working out the initial premises of his system. Com- 
munal living, common property, complex marriage were 


only hazy outlines on a shore dimly seen. What was already 
clear to Noyes, however, was the new relationship of the 
perfectionist to the society and the government of the United 
States, and this he proceeded to explain to Garrison, Whittier 
and Stanton. A week after the visit he sat down and put his 
views on paper for Garrison's benefit. Presuming on "a fel- 
lowship of views and feelings" which he had sensed at the 
interview, he went on to expound the question of the king- 
dom of God and its relation to the kingdom of this world. 
"I am willing that all men should know that I have subscribed 
my name to an instrument similar to the Declaration of '76, 
renouncing all allegiance to the government of the United 
States, and asserting the title of Jesus Christ to the throne of 
the world." 20 This was no metaphysical abstraction or dramatic 
gesture, he assured Garrison, but a flat statement of belief and 
a program for action. The United States government acted 
the bully swaggering about and trampling underfoot both 
the Constitution and the Bible, whipping slaves at the liberty- 
pole and blaspheming in holy places by proclaiming slavery 
a law of God. What then could the Christian do? Escape? 
"But every other country is under the same reprobate au- 
thority." The only solution lay in "coming out" from an 
evil society, fleeing the country in spirit, and refusing to be 
either a hypocrite or a tyrant. "Every person who is, in the 
usual sense of the expression, a citizen of the United States, 
i.e., a voter, politician, etc., is at once a slave and a slave- 
holderin other words a subject and a ruler." God would 
justify him in the character of subject but not of ruler, Noyes 
explained, and only by renouncing all cooperation with the 
authorities of a sinful government could he finally cease to 
do evil and learn to do well. Reform was merely an illusion, 
since reprobation and reproof, as the history of the abolition 
movement showed, only aggravated the sins of the people. 


The sole choice left to the son of God was to declare war 
on the government of the United States and to wage it with 
the weapons of Christ renunciation and repudiation. 

In place of the erroneous axioms of American government 
Noyes offered Garrison some self-evident principles of his 
own. First, that the territory of the United States belongs to 
God, and the American people are guilty of infidelity in trying 
to perpetuate an existence outside the kingdom of Christ. 
Second, that all nations will be dashed to pieces before the 
arrival of the kingdom of God, and all governments there- 
fore are merely "as shadows of good things to come. . . . The 
Son of God has manifestly, to me, chosen this country for 
the theater of such an assault. . . . My hope of the millennium 
begins 'where Dr. Beecher's expires viz., AT THE TOTAL 
OVERTHROW OF THIS NATION." The United States will fall be- 
fore a revolution, "a convulsion like that of France," out of 
which will come instead of a sanguinary Napoleon the Prince 
of Peace. "The convulsion which is coming will be, not the 
struggle of death, but the travail of childbirth the birth of 
a ransomed world." To prepare for the glorious day Noyes 
advised Garrison to give up his "fencing-school" skirmish 
against slavery and join the "general engagement" by occupy- 
ing the ground of universal emancipation from sin. "I counsel 
you, and the people that are with you, if you love the post of 
honor the forefront of the hottest battle of righteousness 
to set your face toward perfect holiness. Your station is one 
that gives you power over the nations. Your city is on a high 
hill. ... I judge from my own experience that you will be 
deserted as Jonah was by the whale the world, in vomiting 
you up, will heave you upon the dry land." 

Garrison succumbed to this Messianic appeal with its deva- 
statingly simple logic. Noyes made expediency and compro- 
mise cardinal sins by erecting an absolute standard of conduct 


with which to measure the slightest deviation from righteous- 
ness. The simplicity of perfectionism masked its authoritarian 
character, its oracular demand for total commitment to "prac- 
tical holiness." It was as though Noyes had explained and 
simplified all of Garrison's longings and desires. Perfectionism 
satisfied his need for order at the same time it released his 
tremendous energy. It offered the security of a seemingly 
consistent system free from confusing exceptions and apparent 
contradictions. It replaced reform with revolution complete 
with apocalyptic vision and millenarian myth. But there was 
an inherent paradox in perfectionism which Garrison failed 
to see. It defined goals and at the same time denied the au- 
thority of institutions through which these goals might be 
attained. It pointed out the good society and then refused 
permission to advance toward it. Agreeing on the nature of 
evil, the perfectionists were unwilling to employ the political 
power needed to wipe it out. As to both means and ends 
perfectionism postulated anarchy by reducing social wrongs 
to a question of personal sin and appealing not to community 
interest but to individual anxieties. Instead of rational appeals 
to self-interest or national welfare, it offered the jeremiad. In 
perfectionism, the revival doctrine of sanctification reached 
its outermost limits in the mystical cult of personal piety. 

Inspired by Noyes and determined to bring all of his vari- 
ous reform interests under a single head, Garrison set to work 
adapting perfectionism to his own needs. Unlike Noyes, he 
could not lay claim to a "second blessing," a regenerative 
experience which could raise a theological concept into an 
article of faith. He turned instead to the Bible which he 
knew so well and pored over the gospels of Paul and John 
for confirmation of Noyes's doctrines. "He that is born of 
God cannot commit sin." "He that committed! sin is of the 
devil." "There is therefore no condemnation to them who 


are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the 
Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath 
made us free from the law of sin and death." Here was proof 
in abundance. Excited, he wrote to Henry Wright to share 
with him his discovery. 

The remedy . . . will not be found in anything short of faith 
in our Lord Jesus Christ [he assured him]. Human governments 
will remain in violent existence as long as men are resolved not to 
bear the cross of Christ, and to be crucified unto the world. But 
in the kingdom of God's dear Son, holiness and love are the only 
magistracy. It has no swords, for they are beaten into plough- 
shares no spears, for they are changed into pruning-hooks no 
military academy, for the saints cannot learn war any more no 
gibbet, for life is regarded as inviolate no chains, for all are free. 
And that kingdom is to be established upon earth, for the time is 
predicted when the kingdoms of this world will become the king- 
doms of the Lord and of his Christ. 21 

In preparing for the Day of Judgment unregenerate politi- 
cians and corrupt democracy will inevitably fail. "Our doom 
as a nation is sealed," he wrote in the Liberator to explain 
perfectionism to his readers. The day of probation is ended 
and we are not saved. Republican government is doomed, for 
the spirit of Christ has fled and left it "in a state of loathsome 
decomposition." 22 

If the United States is destined to collapse, then why do the 
perfectionists preach repentance? "of what avail will it be 
for any of us, in obedience to the command of heaven, to 
take a bunch of hyssop, and strike the lintel and side-posts of 
our dwellings with blood?" Garrison's reply was significant. 
"Because the Lord is to pass through the land, to redeem the 
captives and punish their oppressors; and when he seeth the 
blood upon the lintels and side-posts, the Lord will pass 
over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come into 


our houses to smite us." At Judgment Day it will be every 
man for himself, and the righteous will be found with the 

Garrison's acceptance of perfectionism marked the ascend- 
ancy in his mind of personal salvation over social responsi- 
bility. Since its inception the anti-slavery movement had 
veered between the poles of individual purity and communal 
regeneration. Perfectionism destroyed the social force of 
abolition and left the Garrisonians grouped about the pole of 
sanctification like iron filings magnetized by the pull of holi- 
ness. His critics were right in complaining of the anarchical 
tendencies of perfectionism the logical outgrowth of its 
principles was disunion and the denunciation of "the cove- 
nant with death/ 5 

Meanwhile he occupied himself with the "great subject," 
defining its terms in verse and trying to grasp the essentials of 
practical holiness. Perfection bestows eternal rest: 

... It is to be 

Perfect in love and holiness; 
From sin eternally made free; 

Not under law, but under grace; 
Once cleansed from guilt, forever pure; 

Once pardoned, ever reconciled; 
Once healed, to find a perfect cure; 

As JESUS blameless, undefiled; 
Once saved, no more to go astray. . . . 

The political implications of perfectionism he explained in 
a letter to Henry Wright, who was no less enthusiastic about 
Christian anarchy. "Human governments pre-suppose that 
the government of God is essentially defective not suffi- 
ciently broad and comprehensive to apply to every action of 
life between man and man, and every exigency that may arise 


in national concerns. . . . But human government rests on a 
choice between two evils, both of which the gospel is de- 
signed to destroy." Besides, human society cannot live in a 
state of anarchy without rapidly annihilating itself. "What 
then?" he asked Wright. "Shall we, as Christians, applaud 
and do homage to human government? Or shall we not 
rather lay the axe at the root of the tree, and attempt to 
destroy both cause and consequence together? Happy will 
it be for mankind, when He whose sole right it is to reign, 
shall come and reign." 23 Until that time he foresaw a long 
period of trial before he gained acceptance for these new 
truths. Unhappily, his own assignment of winning the assent 
of the American people seemed to require neither charity 
nor forbearance. 

A Woman in the Pulpit 

IN JUNE, 1837, Garrison attended the annual meeting of the 
American Anti-Slavery Society in New York. Between ses- 
sions he wandered into the Ladies Anti-Slavery Convention 
meeting a few blocks away and there met "Carolina's high- 
souled daughters," Sarah and Angelina Grimke. The Grimke 
sisters, keen abolitionists and fierce feminists both, were 
currently holding forth on the sins of the slaveholders before 
assemblies of New York ladies and had caused so much of a 
stir in the city that they were already contemplating an 
invasion of New England. Garrison must have been encourag- 
ing, for two weeks later the sisters arrived in Boston primed 
with lectures for New England audiences and anxious to 
enlist his support for the emancipation of women. 

Sarah and Angelina Grimke, aged forty-four and thirty- 
two, were the prim, plain spinster daughters of a Charleston 
planter. Educated for the gaieties of Charleston society, the 
sisters reluctantly endured their share of fancy balk and 
theater parties until their brother, fresh from an indoctrination 
at Yale, mercifully set them free from worldly snares by con- 
verting them to Christian reform. In 1835 *hey moved to 
Philadelphia, where first Sarah and then Angelina joined the 
Quakers and became abolitionists. Both were outspoken and 
remarkably articulate if more than a trifle antiseptic. In that 


year Angelina published an Appeal to the Christian Women 
of the South and Sarah an Epistle to the Clergy of the South, 
high-toned pleas for the slave, both of which were promptly 
burned by the Charleston postmaster. The sisters deemed 
such rancor a sufficient deterrent to their return and hence- 
forth confined their activities to the North. 

The national society could hardly afford to ignore such 
promising material, and accordingly the sisters were invited 
to attend Weld's series of lectures to prepare for work in 
the field. They impressed Weld as much by their impatience 
as by their intelligence, for they threw themselves into anti- 
slavery work in New York as though it held the answer to 
woman's worth to American society. They visited Negro 
homes, addressed women's anti-slavery auxiliaries, held court 
for the leading abolitionists of the city, and meanwhile per- 
fected their considerable histrionic talents. They were more 
than ready when Garrison beckoned them to Boston. 

Sarah was a seeker who found in the anti-slavery crusade 
a temporary escape from the boredom and loneliness that 
awaited the spinster in the nineteenth century. She was tall, 
angular, homely beyond belief, on the threshold of middle 
age, unhappy with her status and determined to change it. 
She had experimented with Methodism and Presbyterianism 
before seeking an outlet for her feminist energies in the So- 
ciety of Friends. Even among the Quakers she felt constrained 
by rules and customs that seemed to advertise the natural 
inferiority of her sex. Everywhere she turned she encountered 
the will to keep women in unholy subjection to men. "I am 
greatly mistaken," she once told Weld, "if most men have 
not a desire that women should be silly." They need be silly 
no longer, she declared; the great self-evident principles of 
human rights could be invoked in behalf of women as well 
as slaves, Angelina, younger and more impetuous, though 


scarcely prettier than her sister, agreed that the cause of 
woman's rights was bound to that of the slave. Already half 
in love with Weld and determined to show him her real 
worth, she easily mastered the art of lecturing and began to 
use the anti-slavery platform as a sounding board for her 
feminist as well as her abolitionist convictions. Her sister was 
apt to stammer and mumble through her talks, but Angelina 
soon perfected a delivery which, while properly reticent, was 
also eloquent and moving. 

Together the Grimkes took Boston by storm. In the be- 
ginning they spoke only to small groups of dedicated females, 
but soon they branched out to "promiscuous assemblies" of 
determined wives and their curious husbands who came to 
hear the famous sisters exalt the national character of the 
American woman. Angelina and Sarah warmed to Boston 
immediately. "There is some elasticity in this atmosphere," 
Sarah reported to Weld. "I have been truly refreshed by 
mingling with the abolitionists of Boston and vicinity. ... I 
feel as if I was helped, strengthened, invigorated, and I trust 
the cause of God will be advanced." 1 The advance of aboli- 
tion, however, was destined to be stalled by the whims of 
these feminine perfectionists. Courageous and self-reliant as 
they appeared, the sisters were in fact singularly dependent 
upon the ideas and opinions of men. In New York they had 
found a father and teacher in Theodore Weld; in Boston 
they inevitably fell under the spell of the "noble Garrison." 

Since his fateful interview with Noyes, Garrison had been 
too busy attending conventions and worrying over the future 
of the Liberator to devote himself wholly to perfectionism. 
At the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Society earlier 
that year he had squelched objections to his editorial thunder- 
tones and won the support of the Board of Managers for his 
plan for obtaining financial aid while keeping his editorial 


independence. With the society supposedly behind him he 
began lashing out at the New England churches and their 
ministry, ridiculing the pastoral office and denouncing the 
complacency of congregations. Some of his censure was ab- 
surdly petty. "We object to the term 'house of God' as ap- 
plied to any building made by man," he announced. "It has 
begotten much superstition, is not correct in fact, nor is it 
authorized by the gospel." He did not stop with mere carp- 
ing, however, but proceeded to accuse the churches of foster- 
ing corruption and despotism and asked whether the advo- 
cates of truth were not obliged to come out from among 
them. Not satisfied with his general indictment he singled 
out Professor Moses Stuart of Andover and President Wilbur 
Fisk of Wesleyan as objects of rebuke. Fisk had asked Stuart 
for his views on the Biblical sanction for slavery; and Stuart, 
after careful study of the New Testament, gave as his opin- 
ion that the relation of master and slave was not, as a matter 
of course, abrogated between all Christians. When Garrison 
read this "piece of self-contradiction and absurdity," he dis- 
missed it with the sneering observation that "no man 
whether he be a Doctor of Divinity or a Doctor of Law, or 
the most learned rabbi in the land, can write or talk five 
minutes, either in vindication or palliation of the crime of 
slaveholding without uttering gross absurdity or flat blas- 
phemy." 2 This was his mood when the Grimkes swept into 
New England. 

He was in Brooklyn recuperating from an exhausting round 
of conventions when the Grimkes arrived. The sisters thus 
fell into the eager if not very capable hands of Henry Wright, 
his partner in perfectionism and an agent of the national so- 
ciety in New England. Garrison did not meet the formidable 
sisters until the end of the summer, but meanwhile he began 
surveying the questions of slavery and human government 


from the rarefied plane of Noyes's perfectionism. It was a 
dizzying perspective. Human government, he concluded, was 
better than anarchy just as a hailstorm was preferable to an 
earthquake or the smallpox to the Asiatic cholera. Forms of 
government hardly mattered, since all institutions rested on 
ambition and pride, selfishness and hatred. 3 The idea of any 
human government supposed that God's plan was radically 
defective. Left to their own devices men would rapidly 
annihilate themselves and peace would come with the rule of 

Politicians and philosophers have sometimes foolishly speculated 
about the best forms of human government, and their relative 
adaptation to the conditions of mankind in the various parts of 
the Globe whether, for instance, the republican form is not 
better than the monarchial, and the elective than the hereditary, 
in all cases. But this is idle. What is government but the express 
image of the moral character of a people? As a general rule, in 
the nature of things, the deeper a nation is sunken in ignorance 
and depravity, the more arbitrary and cruel will be the govern- 
ment established over it, both in a religious and political point 
of view. 4 

While Garrison pondered the apocalypse in his rustic sur- 
roundings, the Grimkes and Henry Wright were preparing 
the day of its coming. "Dear brother Wright," as Angelina 
called him, was the first and most durable of the Garrisonian 
radicals. He was a spare, rawboned man with granitic fea- 
tures, close-cropped iron-gray hair and glacial blue eyes 
one of Garrison's yeomen who "have gloriously triumphed 
over the aristocracy of the city." By trade a hatmaker, he 
studied theology at Andover and at the age of twenty-six 
took a church in West Newbury just as Garrison launched 
the Free Press and, like him, was soon swallowed up in the 
sea of moral reform. He served as agent of the American 


Sunday School Union, became a member of William Ladd's 
peace society, and joined the abolitionists in 1835. Garrison 
pronounced him "a valuable acquisition to our cause a fear- 
less, uncompromising and zealous Christian." He might have 
added that Wright was also restless, vain and querulous. One 
of the most remarkable aspects of a career studded with 
broken friendships was the deep affection which these two 
overbearing and ambitious men had for each other. Both were 
"ultras" who looked out at the sins of the world through the 
strong lens of moral absolutes and spied their salvation in 
works of practical holiness. When he first met the Grimkes 
and appointed himself their agent, Wright was one of Weld's 
Band of Seventy and the Children's Agent for New England. 
An uncompromising Christian he may have been, but an ef- 
fective anti-slavery agent he certainly was not. His obsession 
with nonresistance and his willingness to drop the subject of 
slavery like a hot coal whenever the peace question arose made 
him something of a headache to the Agency Committee, who 
were less interested in the millennium than in freedom for 
the slave. A lecture tour by two ardent feminists endorsed 
by Garrison and managed by Wright contained all the ex- 
plosive ingredients of a crisis. 

With Wright as counselor the Grimkes quickly took up 
perfectionism in earnest. They read Noyes's paper eagerly 
and discussed with Wright the fine points of nonresistance, 
public worship, the status of women, and the failings of hu- 
man government. "Sometimes I am ready to turn away from 
the contemplation of these subjects least [sic] my mind 
should not dwell sufficiently on slavery," Sarah confessed 
to Weld, but added that the more she reflected on the prob- 
lem, the more she was convinced that "light on every subject 
is a blessing." 6 Angelina was even more obdurate. When the 
New England dergy began to object to her addressing mixed 


audiences, she replied that "the time to assert a right is the 
time when that right is denied," and that if she were to be of 
any use in the anti-slavery cause her right to labor in it must 
be firmly established. Anti-slavery conservatives, she com- 
plained, were trying hard to separate what God had joined 
together. For one, she did not see how different moral re- 
forms could ever be kept entirely distinct. "The whole 
Church Government must come down," she informed the 
startled Weld. "The clergy stand right in the way of reform, 
and I do not know but this stumbling block too must be 
removed before Slavery can be abolished, for the system is 
supported by them; it could not exist without the Church as 
it is called." 6 Poor Weld, who loved Angelina but not her 
"highly analogical" mind, objected strenuously to arguments 
which he told her "reversed the laws of nature. . . . No moral 
enterprise when prosecuted with ability and any sort of 
energy EVER failed under heaven so long as its conductors 
pushed the main principles and did not strike off until they 
got to the summit level," he reminded the sisters sternly. On 
the other hand, every moral enterprise that ever foundered 
was capsized by a gusty side wind. Perfectionism and woman's 
rights, he could see, were blowing up a storm in Boston that 
might swamp the anti-slavery bark. 7 

In September the sisters met Garrison at long last. "Dear 
brother Garrison has been passing the day with us," Sarah 
reported from Brookline, "as iron sharpeneth iron so doth a 
man the countenance] of his friend and it has cheered my 
spirit to find that he unites fully with us on the subject of the 
rights of women." 8 He joined in deploring the failures of 
New England ministers and promised to keep the Liberator 
filled with editorials upholding the cause of freedom for 
women. The sisters suggested he abandon anti-slavery as the 
exclusive object of his paper and include all the "grand prin- 


ciples" of moral reform. "I feel somewhat at a loss," he ad- 
mitted, "to know what to do whether to go into all the 
principles of holy reform, and make the abolition cause sub- 
ordinate, or whether still to persevere in the one beaten track 
as hitherto." Before he had time to decide, the Grimkes had 
touched off the controversy which was to end two years 
later in the disruption of the anti-slavery movement. 

The trouble began, Sarah admitted, when the Lord "very 
unexpectedly made us the means of bringing up the discussion 
of the question of woman's preaching." 9 Even crusty Amos 
Phelps temporarily relinquished his Pauline prejudices and 
went to hear Angelina. Large and enthusiastic audiences led 
Sarah to conclude that the time was approaching when Chris- 
tians would realize that there was neither male nor female 
but that all were one in Christ. That time, she soon dis- 
covered, was not yet. The General Association of Congrega- 
tional Ministers, which met in the summer of 1837, saw in the 
Grimkes' indiscreet behavior a means of settling accounts with 
Garrison for his unseemly remarks on their churches. The 
ministers drew up a pastoral letter denouncing the tendency 
of reformers to introduce "perplexed and agitating subjects" 
into their congregations and deploring the loss of deference 
to the pastoral office which was the mark of Christian urban- 
ity and "a uniform attendant of the full influence of religion 
upon the individual character." Without naming the Grimkes 
or Garrison the pastoral letter warned of "the dangers which 
at present seem to threaten the female character with wide- 
spread and permanent injury" by leading her to transcend 
"the modesty of her sex." Especially did they bewail the 
intimate acquaintance and "promiscuous conversation" of 
females with regard to things which ought not to be named, 
"by which that delicacy which is the charm of domestic life, 
and which constitutes the true influence of woman in society, 


is consumed and the way opened, as we apprehend, for de- 
generacy and ruin." 10 No longer would the Grimkes be 
permitted their oblique references to the sexual habits of slave- 

As a weapon against Garrison the pastoral letter was not 
very formidable and might best have been ignored, but be- 
fore he mustered a reply a second allegation burst on the 
public, an Appeal of Clerical Abolitionists on Anti-Slavery 
Measures, signed by five clergymen from eastern Massachu- 
setts. The dissenters found the courage publicly to disapprove 
Garrison's course and accuse him of "hasty, unsparing, al- 
most ferocious denunciation" of everybody who disagreed 
with him. "The time is very fully in our recollection," they 
declared, "when *we were not abolitionists; nor are we con- 
scious that *we were then either hypocrites or knaves." 11 

The clerical appeal, though the work of only a handful of 
ministers, had the merit of broadening the charges against 
Garrison from mere clerical pique at the invasion of women 
to a general indictment of his radical methods. For his part, 
Garrison was delighted with it since it gave him a chance to 
fight on the solid ground of anti-clericalism rather than on the 
shifting sands of woman's rights. Hurriedly he sent his reply 
for immediate publication in the Liberator. Ignoring the 
charges of personal malice and incompetence, he identified 
as the chief supporters of slavery those "latter-day Jesuits" 
and "rabbis" in sacerdotal robes who presumed to censure 
honest men. "Abolitionism brings ministers and laymen upon 
the same dead level of equality, and repudiates all 'clerical' 
assumption and spiritual supremacy. Nothing can be more 
offensive to it, than this attempt to enforce opinions in an 
oracular tone as CLERGYMEN." 12 

Meanwhile the New England Spectator, the organ of the 
clerical party, printed an attack from still another clergyman, 


James T. Woodbury, who had been longing for the chance 
to squelch the Liberator. "I am an abolitionist," Woodbury 
wrote, "and I am so in the strictest sense of the term; but I 
never swallowed Wm. Lloyd Garrison, and I never tried to 
swallow him." Garrison, he continued, was bent on the over- 
throw of the Sabbath, the ministry, and the whole American 
church. "We are not willing for the sake of killing rats, to 
burn down the house with all it contains." With his "peculiar 
theology" Garrison had become a menace to the anti-slavery 
cause and must be disavowed. "No doubt, if you break with 
Garrison, some will say, 'You are no abolitionist,' for, with 
some, Garrison is the god of their idolatry. He embodies 
abolition. He is abolition personified and incarnate." He was 
nonetheless dangerous, Woodbury declared, and called on 
Christian reformers to save the anti-slavery cause from heresy 
and atheism. 13 

Woodbury's letter was a tactical error, for it shifted the 
ground of attack once more from Garrison's anti-clericalism 
to questions of personality. Garrison was quick to oblige his 
critic. His distaste was not an isolated case, he reminded 
Woodbury. "The robbers of God's poor, the supporters of 
lynch law, the chief priests, scribes and pharisees, have all 
been unable to 'swallow Wm. Lloyd Garrison.' " Yet in 
a sense, he pointed out, all thoroughgoing abolitionists had 
followed him from colonization to abolition, then from gradual- 
ism to immediatisni. How else explain his "delightful associ- 
ation" with men of all political parties and religious denomi- 
nations? Because of his uncompromising way of telling the 
truth he was, in fact, indispensable to the cause. 14 

The Executive Committee of the national society viewed 
this quarrel with growing dismay. On the scene was one of 
their agents, Henry B. Stanton, a sharp-eyed and hardheaded 
organizer with little patience for either Garrison's religious 


notions or the pompous pretensions of the clerical party, 
Stanton identified the cause of the row as Garrison's personal 
brand of "locofocoism" which had ignited the fuse of a con- 
servative reaction. Unless the Executive Committee inter- 
vened, he warned, there would be a war of extermination that 
could spell the end of anti-slavery in New England. "I ex- 
pect to see the Liberator containing 3 or 4 columns castigating 
bro. Woodbury and the Andover students," he predicted, 
" and next week, in the Liberator, I expect to see 4 or 5 
columns in reply to the 'Protest' of bros. Fitch and Towne, 
and then in due time, another reply to their next 'protest,' and 
then their rejoinder, and his surrejoinder with their rebutter, 
and his surrebutter." 15 The dissidents demanded nothing less 
than the separation of the Liberator and the Massachusetts 
Anti-Slavery Society. Woodbury, Fitch and Company had 
been pushed to the wall and were resolved to stand it no 
longer; the Garrisonians were determined on war to the 
knife. "They will not yield an inch, to prevent the formation 
of a thousand new organizations." Unless an "umpire influ- 
ence" from New York prevented it, the New England 
mutiny, Stanton cautioned the Executive Committee, would 
destroy the cause. 

But what was the Executive Committee to do? Lewis 
Tappan thought the whole affair inflated to ridiculous pro- 
portions, a local squabble which the national society could 
well ignore. He wrote Garrison to this effect and added that 
he did not think the clerical appeal such a "monstrous sub- 
ject" that it required all the abolition artillery in the nation 
to dispose of it. Besides, he reminded Garrison, the Liberator 
frequently gave cause for complaint. "THE SPIRIT EXHIBITED 

LIKE." 16 James Birney, now a full-fledged abolitionist, went 
















even further in reproaching Garrison for his lack of self- 
control. "If Mr. Garrison, or anyone else among us, thinks 
that he is authorized to judge and rebuke as Christ judged 
and rebuked, it becomes him to recall the instances of melt- 
ing love, the meekness, the forbearance of the Master." 17 
Garrison shot back the terse rejoinder that "Bro. Birney ap- 
pears to have grown exceedingly fastidious and hypercritical." 

It was Elizur Wright, however, who wrote to Garrison all 
the "objectionable things" that candor induced him to say. 
He had hoped that Garrison could have conducted his paper 
"without travelling off the ground of our true, noble, heart- 
stirring Declaration of Sentiments," but since he had chosen 
to wander from the straight path of abolition, he must not 
complain when other abolitionists as dedicated as himself 
objected to his novel views. Wright spoke of himself as typi- 
cal of these men. "As you well know, I am comparatively 
no bigot to any creed, political or theological; yet to tell the 
plain truth, I look upon your notions of government and 
religious perfection as downright fanaticism as harmless as 
they are absurd. I would not care a pin's head if they were 
preached to all Christendom; for it is not in the human mind 
(except in a peculiar and diseased state,) to believe them." 
How could Garrison expect to avoid the censure of all intelli- 
gent men when he insisted on making these heretical opinions 
the test of anti-slavery orthodoxy? Leave the question of 
government alone until the Negro was free, Wright warned 
"then you may make your will upon it for all of me. . . . 
But if this cannot be done, why, come out plainly and say you 
have left the old track and started on a new one or, rather, 
two or three new ones at once, and save us from the miserable 
business of making disclaimers." 18 

Wright's plain speaking only convinced Garrison that the 
forces of sectarianism had invaded national headquarters, 


where something was obviously amiss. "Our friends at New 
York," he replied ominously, "may rely upon it, that the 
course which they have resolved to pursue, respecting this 
matter, will very much displease the great body of abolition- 
ists, and alienate them and their money from the Parent So- 
ciety." 19 Justice clearly upheld the Garrisonians, and the 
Executive Committee must not mind if the Garrisonians, in 
turn, gave Justice a helping hand. 

The scenario for the Clerical Conspiracy was pure opera 
bouffe, but the questions it raised were and still are funda- 
mental to American politics. Where does social reform be- 
gin in the gradual improvement of society or in the con- 
science of the private citizen? What is the more effective 
instrument of reform the political minority which accepts 
its role in a democratic society or the religious sect which 
repudiates the community and its laws? Is it better to accept 
half a loaf or refuse to take less than the whole? Who ac- 
complishes more the moderate who will bargain to get 
what he wants or the radical who will not? The choice be- 
tween political reform and religious revolution had been 
implicit in the anti-slavery movement from the beginning. 
The abolitionist crusade in the United States was not simply 
an appendage to Jacksonian Democracy, the religious corol- 
lary to a new secular democratic spirit. The anti-slavery 
impulse was fundamentally a religious urge and the abolition- 
ist pioneers were endowed with a lively sense of their mission. 
They saw their work as nothing less than the completion of 
the great Protestant tradition of Luther, Calvin, Knox, Ed- 
wards, and Wesley they were preparing the climax of a 
three-hundred-year Reformation. They knew that their 
strength lay in the churches of America and the deep-rooted 
religious sense of the people which undercut the experience 
of revolution. They had their share of Jacksonian optimism, 


but for them Manifest Destiny carried a special and an overtly 
religious meaning the destiny of a chosen people to bring 
divine light to the rest of the world. The importance of the 
American political experiment as they understood it lay in 
the attempt to fuse religious truths and political techniques. 
Most of them accepted the need for popular democracy even 
though they did not like all its consequences. Gradually, as 
the movement grew, the abolitionists began to feel the pres- 
sure of a hostile environment driving them to broaden the 
scope of their reform to include political aspirations and 
economic motives in addition to the original religious plat- 

Thus the anti-slavery crusade, split by the same inner con- 
tradictions as was Christianity itself, marched under the con- 
flicting standards of personal holiness and social obligation, 
following first the directives of an inner voice and then the 
dictates of common sense. The Anti-Slavery Society was 
both a church and a sect an institution appealing to the 
community at large, and a gathered group of true believers. 
The anti-slavery formula, "immediate emancipation," reflected 
this ambiguity. Strictly construed it meant instant repentance 
and direct action; upon deliberation, it seemed to signify 
some kind of political engagement. These alternatives were 
also embodied in the personalities of the abolitionists them- 
selvesin the shrewd and practical organizers like Weld, 
Birney, and Stanton, and the zealots like Henry Wright, 
Charles Burleigh, and Garrison. 

It was Weld who explained the philosophy of adjustment 
to the Grimke sisters in the hope of winning them back from 
Garrison and perfectionism. He was in love with Angelina 
but disturbed at the thought of a wife who would dedicate 
both their lives to renovating the world at a single stroke. In 
a series of long and painfully reasonable letters he convinced 


them of the impracticaHty of their views. "Since the world 
began," he wrote, "Moral Reform has been successfully ad- 
vanced only in one way, and that has been by uplifting a 
great self evident central principle before all eyes. Then after 
keeping the principle in full blaze till it is admitted and ac- 
credited and the surrounding mass of mind is brought over 
and committed to it, then the derivative principles which 
radiate in all directions from this main central principle have 
been held up in the light of it and the mind having already 
embraced the central principle, moves spontaneously outward 
over all its relations"** How did Luther give the Reformation 
its irresistible momentum but by making the sale of indul- 
gences his "fulcrum and lever"? How explain the success of 
reform in England unless by the fact that slavery was dis- 
cussed for years "in every corner; the whole English mind 
was soaked with it." Reformers had to be practical, he re- 
minded the sisters, and practicality meant a realistic accom- 
modation of means to ends. To demand a total change in the 
human spirit all at once or approach a society with a panacea 
was to reverse the order of nature and misread history and 
the human condition. 

In attempting to counteract the millenarian spirit issuing 
from 46 Washington Street, Weld spoke for a growing num- 
ber of abolitionists who were resolved to make anti-slavery 
respectable. Birney, Stanton, Wright and Joshua Leavitt were 
already thinking of organizing the political strength of anti- 
slavery and were agreed on the need to keep it free from 
heretical ideas. It seemed to them that Garrison was using his 
prestige to destroy the movement. Four years ago they too 
had believed in the sufficiency of a moral appeal based on 
the formulas of sin and repentance, but in 1837 there was 
need for a few second thoughts. In the first place, their faith 
in the anti-slavery tract, the petition and the lecture had been 


shaken by an obvious lack of results. Without the support 
of the churches anti-slavery was doomed. What was needed, 
they realized, was an organized attempt to win over all of the 
major denominations. For this reason they resented Garrison's 
attacks on the clergy. How, they asked, could anti-slavery 
make converts without relying on religious and political 
institutions? Implicit in their argument was the assump- 
tion that the only practicable way of reforming the South 
was by outvoting it. The logic of their argument led directly 
to the anti-slavery political party built with economic and 
political as well as moral planks. It meant secularizing aboli- 
tion and adjusting it to the role of a political minority in a 
democratic society. It meant accepting the limitations of 
minority action compromises, concessions, limited goals 
and working within the institutional framework of American 
democracy, co-operating with churches, infiltrating political 
parties or creating new ones, educating people by the slow 
process of discussion, surrendering absolute judgments for 
limited and conditional support, trading moral will for votes. 
In short, it meant the Liberty Party, the Free Soil Party, and 
ultimately the Republican Party. 

Thus by 1837 anti-slavery had reached a crossroad. One 
road led into the broad highway of American political re- 
form. This was the road pointed out by Weld, Birney and 
Stanton that connected with the continuity and conservative 
tradition of American life. The other road was a highroad of 
moral idealism which cut directly across the conservative 
pattern of American society to revolution, secession and civil 
war. This was the road Garrison chose. 

To a certain extent his choice was dictated by the demands 
of his authoritarian temperament. What concerned him was 
not slavery as an institution but the slave as a child of God. If 
his diagnosis was correct, American society was sick and 


needed the kind of surgery that only a Christian radical could 
perform. Slavery was one of the symptoms of approaching 
decline, but there were others the treatment of women, 
the oppression of the poor, expansionism and a war spirit. 
For all these ills perfectionism offered a total cure. But moral 
rehabilitation was too urgent a problem to be left to the 
whims of weak men with their corrupt institutions. How 
could he work with ministers who accepted slavery or with 
politicians who denied women their rights? How could he 
embrace children of darkness who reveled in sin? A true Chris- 
tian was compelled to come out from among them, to re- 
nounce their evil ways and escape everlasting perdition. As 
he reviewed the anti-slavery record, it seemed to him that 
abolitionists had never really been either tolerant or demo- 
cratic. They were servants of the Lord, not catchpenny poli- 
ticians. They had spurned a compromise with the coloniza- 
tionists, demolished Lyman Beecher's fanciful scheme of 
conciliation, and courted the most dangerous kind of un- 
popularity. Why should they balk at perfectionism? Everyone 
admitted the evil of slavery was its denial of Christ to the 
black man. Then any law, institution, or government which 
refused to acknowledge the enormity of that sin would have 
to be destroyed. The children of light, he saw now, were 
covenanted together for the subversion of wickedness and 
the establishment of freedom the absolute freedom of the 
righteous who have escaped the bondage of sin. 

Garrison's generation proceeded from the premise that 
there were no moral issues or political differences fundamental 
enough to paralyze the energies of free government. For- 
getting its revolutionary heritage, it believed that moral ques- 
tions, like political interests, were matters for adjustment, 
and that in exchange for their promise of good behavior 
minorities might receive a majority guarantee of fair play. 


This assumption meant that the American democracy func- 
tioned effectively just so long as there were no absolute moral 
judgments to clog the machinery. Garrison's belief was one 
of these absolutes. For him the central fact of American life 
was the immorality of slavery. If he ever convinced the peo- 
ple of the North of that fact, constitutional government 
would collapse. His kind of agitation made civil war a distinct 
possibility by disclosing the impotence of compromise and 
good will in the face of the moral idealism of an elite. 

To this perfectionist elite he addressed his prospectus for 
the eighth volume of the Liberator, promising them that slav- 
ery would still be the "grand object 77 of his labors "though 
not, perhaps, so exclusively as before." He offered these 
"honest-hearted 77 and "pure-minded 7 ' faithful the dominion 
of God: 

... the control of an inward spirit, the government of love, and 
. . . the obedience and liberty of Christ. As to the governments of 
this world, whatever their titles or forms, we shall endeavor to 
prove, that in their essential elements, and as at present adminis- 
tered, they are all Anti-Christ; that they can never, by human 
wisdom, be brought into conformity with the will of God; . . . 
that all their penal enactments being a dead letter without an 
army to carry them into effect, are virtually written in human 
blood; and that the followers of Jesus should instinctively shun 
their stations of 'honor, power and emolument.' 21 

For the power of democratic institutions he now substituted 
his old belief in the absolute authority of the righteous man. 

It was not with righteousness but with women's votes that 
he finally defeated his clerical enemies at a meeting in Wor- 
cester. To insure a majority he arranged for the admission of 
women delegates in the expectation that his foes would at- 
tempt a vote of censure. As he anticipated, the ministers ap- 
pointed a spokesman to present their charges, but when he 


tried to speak, he was shouted down by a host of female 
voices until Garrison in a magnificent gesture came forward 
to demand that his opponent be heard. The convention 
listened sullenly to the clerical complaints only to dismiss 
them and hurriedly vote its confidence in the continued lead- 
ership of William Lloyd Garrison. He had won the first trial 
of strength in the Massachusetts Society and women had 
made all the difference. 

Meanwhile Sarah and Angelina Grimke returned to New 
York and the anxious Weld. Angelina had decided that she 
cared for him more than for the rights of women, and Sarah, 
less sure of Weld's wisdom but devoted to her sister, acqui- 
esced in Angelina's decision. In their year with Garrison the 
sisters had ventured out on the sea of moral reform and 
plumbed its depth to find in the murky currents beneath the 
surface the hidden American prejudices against change. Garri- 
son had proved a helpful guide if not an expert navigator. In 
their turn the Grimkes had shown him that in the emotional 
storms threatening his ship of reform women were valuable 

The alliance between Garrison and American women was 
hardly fortuitous. They knew in a way that men could not 
know what it meant to be a slave, to live under the control 
of another. This is what Angelina Grimke meant when she 
said that men ought to be satisfied with the dominion they had 
exercised for six thousand years "and that more true nobility 
would be manifested by endeavoring to raise the fallen and 
invigorate the weak than by keeping women in subjection." 22 
Women needed no elaborate train of reasoning to convince 
them that slavery the ownership of one person by another 
was inhuman, and that God had made no distinction be- 
tween men and women as moral beings any more than he had 
between black and white. They reasoned that whatever it 


was morally right for a man to do it was right for a woman 
to do. For this reason, many of the anti-slavery feminists like 
the Grimkes and the Weston sisters did not bother with 
proving the immorality of slavery they felt it as a condi- 
tion not far removed from their own. "What then can 
woman do for the slave" Angelina Grimke asked, "when 
she is herself under the feet of man and shamed into silence?" 
For this reason too they responded to Garrison, whose 
indictment of slavery was personal like their own. Garrison 
also reacted to slavery experientially as a condition of de- 
pendence which destroyed the human personality by sub- 
jecting it to the will of another. His mother had attempted 
such a hold on him, and he had grown to manhood in sub- 
jection to her will. He too knew what it was to be owned. 
More than once he attempted a philosophic analysis of slav- 
ery but without success, for his real message remained simple 
and direct slavery was inhuman because it killed the soul. 
This was the only argument he ever possessed. Every edi- 
torial, every speech, every word he ever wrote or spoke on 
the slavery question was a variation on this simple theme. 
It was this theme that established his rapport with American 
women and gave him the confidence he needed. Women 
thrilled to his descriptions of the pure evil of slavery, and he 
found in their response something which satisfied a deep need 
in himself. Women offered him power. 

The Politics of Perfection 

IN NOVEMBER, 1837, Elijah Lovejoy was killed in Alton, 
Illinois, while defending his abolitionist press from a mob, 
and anti-slavery had its first real martyr. Garrison praised 
Lovejoy's bravery in defending freedom of the press with 
rifles, but he could not condone an act which threatened to 
destroy his illusion of the peaceful nature of anti-slavery. 
"We cannot ... in conscience delay the expression of our 
regret, that our martyred coadjutor and his unfaltering friends 
in Alton should have allowed any provocation, or personal 
danger, or hope of victory, or distrust of the protection of 
Heaven, to drive them to take up arms in self-defense. They 
were not required to do so either as philanthropists or chris- 
tians; and they have certainly set a dangerous precedent in 
the maintenance of our cause." 1 Boston held a protest meet- 
ing in Faneuil Hall which was marked by the dramatic debut 
of Wendell Phillips, who celebrated Lovejoy 's sacrifice and 
likened him to the patriots in the American Revolution. The 
appearance of Phillips as a full-fledged Garrisonian empha- 
sized the growing appeal of anti-slavery for Boston gentlemen 
and the need for a platform designed to exploit it. Garrison's 
mind, however, was moving in the opposite direction. 

Love joy's death raised the problem of combining anti- 
slavery and nonresistance. How far were abolitionists obli- 


gated to practice pacifism? Garrison had no clear-cut answer. 
He assured his followers that he had no intention of con- 
founding perfectionism and abolition or of making nonresist- 
ance a test of anti-slavery character. "If any man shall affirm 
that the anti-slavery cause, as such, or any anti-slavery society, 
is answerable for our sentiments on this subject, to him may 
be justly applied the apostolic declaration, 'the truth is not 
in him.' " Yet it did seem that reformers were too "unsettled" 
on the problem of peace and that it was time they declared 
themselves. If they refused the right of self-defense to the 
slave, how could they justify their own use of force? "And 
if they conscientiously believe that the slaves would be guilt- 
less in shedding the blood of the merciless oppressors, let them 
say so unequivocally for there is no neutral ground in this 
matter, and the time is near when they will be compelled to 
take sides." 2 That time was nearer than he thought. The 
"woman question," as he now called it, admitted of an easier 
solution, since it was not an "irrelevant question" but one 
which was "perfectly proper" to discuss. When he suggested 
admitting women to the New England Anti-Slavery Conven- 
tion, however, he found that a perfectly proper question 
could also be a vexing one. 

The New England Anti-Slavery Convention met in Boston 
on May 28, 1838. At Garrison's suggestion the delegates 
voted to invite women to become members, and over the 
objections of the clergy who protested the innovation as 
"injurious to the cause," they elected Abby Kelley, an out- 
spoken feminist, to one of the standing committees. The next 
day the Garrisonians invaded the annual meeting of William 
Ladd's American Peace Society to save it from "belligerent 
commanders, generals, colonels, majors, corporals and all." 
The members of the Peace Society, who had been warned of 
Garrison's intentions, decided to strike first by asserting the 


right of defensive war, but their motion was swamped by 
the invaders, who proceeded to pass their own resolution call- 
ing for a new convention to overhaul the entire organization 
and appointing a committee friendly to woman's rights and 
nonresistance. On the following day he and his company 
returned to the Marlboro' Chapel and the Anti-Slavery Con- 
vention, where they named another committee to help draft 
a call to the proposed peace convention. Once again women 
were invited to participate. Thus were the twin causes of 
nonresistance and woman's rights united in what their op- 
ponents thought unholy matrimony. 

All that summer Henry Wright held preparatory meetings 
while Garrison publicized the forthcoming peace convention 
in the Liberator. Their joint eiforts resulted in a meeting at 
the Marlboro' Chapel on September 18, 1838, of one hun- 
dred and sixty delegates, many of them radical abolitionists 
of the Garrisonian stamp. In addition to Garrison, Henry 
Wright and May, there was Wendell Phillips, an interested 
spectator if hardly a pacifist, and Edmund Quincy, who also 
had reservations about perfectionism but had come anyway. 
At the first session Garrison moved quickly to seize control 
of the convention. As the delegates began to answer the roll 
call, he rose and with a dim smile suggested that each indi- 
vidual write his or her name on a slip of paper, "thus mooting 
the vexed Voman question' at the outset." 3 There were a few 
dark looks from the clergy, but no one challenged the motion 
or the subsequent election of Abby Kelley to the business 
committee. When the redoubtable Abby took the first oppor- 
tunity to call one of her clerical brethren on a point of order, 
however, the ministers realized the gravity of their mistake, 
rose to request that their names be removed from the roll, 
and hurriedly withdrew. 

While the convention debated capital punishment, Garrison 


was busy drafting a constitution and declaration of sentiments 
for a Non-Resistance Society which would disavow all hu- 
man government. "Never was a more 'fanatical' or 'disorgan- 
izing' instrument penned by man," he boasted, adding that 
after a "deep and lively sensation" among the delegates, it 
was adopted by a vote of five to one. He neglected to add 
that the original number of delegates had dwindled to less 
than fifty and that only twenty-five of these were willing 
to sign the document. "All who voted for it were abolition- 
ists," he noted with satisfaction as though to prove the kin- 
ship of anti-slavery and peace. 

The handful of "ultra" abolitionists who signed Garrison's 
Declaration of Sentiments of the Non-Resistance Society 
witnessed one of the most extraordinary documents in the 
history of American Adamic literature. "We cannot acknowl- 
edge allegiance to any human government," the declaration 
begins, "neither can we oppose any such government by a 
resort to physical force. We recognize but one KING and 
LAWGIVER, one JUDGE and RULER of mankind. We are bound 
by the laws of a kingdom which is not of this world, the sub- 
jects of which are forbidden to fight, in which Mercy and 
Truth are met together, and Righteousness and Peace have 
kissed each other. We register our testimony, not only against 
all war, but against all preparation for war." Garrison denied 
the right of self-defense to individuals as well as to nations. 
Until the day when government renounced war the society 
would withhold its allegiance. "As every human government 
is upheld by physical strength, and its laws are enforced 
virtually at the point of a bayonet, we cannot hold any office 
which imposes upon its incumbent the obligation to compel 
men to do right, on pain of imprisonment or death. We 
therefore voluntarily exclude ourselves from every legislative 
and judicial body, and repudiate all human politics, worldly 


honors, and stations of authority/' Then came the gospel 
justification for this "no-government" theory: 

The history of mankind is crowded with evidences proving that 
physical coercion is not adapted to moral regeneration; that the 
sinful dispositions of men can be subdued only by love; that evil 
can be exterminated from the earth only by goodness; that it 
is not safe to rely upon an arm of flesh, upon man whose breath 
is in his nostrils, to preserve us from harm; that there is great 
security in being gentle, harmless, long-suif ering, and abundant 
in mercy; that it is only the meek who shall inherit the earth, for 
the violent who resort to the sword are destined to perish by the 
sword* Hence, as a measure of sound policy of safely to prop- 
erty, life, and liberty of public quietude and private enjoyment 
as well as on the ground of allegiance to HIM who is KING or 
LOB$, we cordially adopt the non-resistance principle; being 
confident that it provides for all possible consequences, will en- 
sure all things needful to us, is armed with omnipotent power, 
and must ultimately triumph over every assailing force. 4 

Garrison's Biblical paraphrase, hastily composed and as 
quickly adopted, proved too much for the judicious Edmund 
Quincy, who with May insisted on the difference between 
"the man-killing, God-defying rights of power" and the 
"innocent functions of government." "I grant that the resort 
to force is never to be had, but the injury to be submitted to 
and forgiven," Quincy wrote to Garrison. "But the ordinary 
and innocent business of life can no more be carried on with- 
out these contrivances than it can without money." 5 In his 
view the cause of peace did not demand the sacrifice of com- 
mon sense. Garrison airily dismissed his friend's objection and 
insisted that his Declaration of Sentiments repudiated nothing 
but the spirit of violence in thought, word, and deed. "What- 
ever, therefore, may be done without provoking that spirit of 


disinterested benevolence, is not touched or alluded to in the 

instrument." 6 

This was hardly what his Declaration of Sentiments said, 
but it reflected Garrison's real feelings about pacifism. None 
of his arguments bore close scrutiny, since it was the idea of 
moral commitment rather than the pkn of effective action 
that concerned him. He prided himself on having "stirred up 
a breeze" in the world of reform and found it gratifying that 
"a few, obscure, moneyless unpretending men and women" 
could have set New England on its ear. He hailed his own 
achievement as possibly "the most important chapter in the 
annals of Christianity." What did it matter that only twenty- 
seven of the original one hundred and sixty members had the 
courage to approve his work "the progress of Christianity 
through the world, since the time when only twelve persons 
were found willing to take up its cross . . . should teach 
. . . that it is of no consequence how many or how few 
subscribed to the principles and doctrines of the Declara- 

tion." 7 

William Ladd disowned the Non-Resistance Society as the 
illegitimate offspring of good intentions and poor logic. It was 
not simply the admission of women or the anti-Sabbatarian 
views of the nonresistants that troubled him, though these 
were bad enough, but the whole concept of perfection, that 
fountain of Christian heresy which had poisoned the pro- 
ceedings and watered the seeds of schism. "Many important 
doctrines of the gospel," he warned, "may be pushed to ab- 
surdity, with considerable plausibility." 8 He could not doubt 
Garrison's sincerity, but there was such a thing as going 
beyond the millennium. He was content to stop there. 

Garrison's harshest critic was Orange Scott, a Methodist 
minister from Vermont who pointed out that the new organ- 
ization was not simply a peace society but a "no-government" 


sect devoted to the principles of civil disobedience. It simply 
would not do for Garrison to argue that peace and anti-slavery 
were totally unrelated, and then in the next breath boast that 
all thoroughgoing nonresistants were also loyal abolitionists. 
Such jumbling of the facts looked like an attempt to give 
character and influence to the nonresistance scheme by mak- 
ing it appear that the abolitionists favored it whereas most 
of them considered civil government indispensable to their 
cause. "Will you say," he asked Garrison, "but we trust in 
God, and commit our all to him? As well might you trust in 
God to edit and print your paper." What would have hap- 
pened to him in the Boston riot if the mayor and his police 
had not intervened? Besides, no one ever pretended that the 
gospel of Christ contained all of the Christian message. Then 
why this "new and loose theory"? "With your views, I can- 
not conceive by what authority you appoint officers in your 
society. They may not, indeed, enforce obedience by penal- 
ties but then the idea of office keeps up a distinction, which 
your principles are calculated to level." How did Garrison 
justify voting in state and national elections? How could he 
recommend the use of petitions "if you believe the very 
existence of a legislative body to be sin, how can you connive 
at its existence, by asking of it legislative action?" All institu- 
tions, Scott concluded, must collapse before the perfectionist 
repudiation of human government. 9 

In his reply Garrison struck back at a hostile world. Scott, 
he announced, was a notoriously weak man who once had 
supported the colonizationists. What right had he to speak 
for anti-slavery? And what did his charge of anarchy mean? 
The end of human government spelled not chaos but the 
coming of a new order. When Scott objected to this "cheap 
way of disposing of an argument" and withdrew from the 
encounter, Garrison promptly dismissed Scott's retreat as 


"tantamount to a confession, that he erred in judgment.'' 10 
The abolitionist reaction against perfectionism continued 
to spread both among the New England clergy and the 
Executive Committee in New York, who foresaw disaster in 
the abandonment of politics. Significantly, Garrison was more 
concerned with Scriptural arguments than with the practical 
objections of the Executive Committee. Reformers, he an- 
nounced, mistook the divine purpose when they settled their 
cause on any single passage in the Bible instead of the whole 
of the gospel of Jesus, which taught total obedience to Christ. 
"The present governments of the world are the consequence 
of disobedience to the commands of God. But Christ came 
to bring men back to obedience *by a new and living way/ 
When the cause is taken away, must not the effect cease? 
. . . We are for subverting the rotten, unequal, anti-Christian 
government of man, and establishing, as a substitute that which 
is divine." 11 

Here enveloped in the language of the Second Great 
Awakening stood revealed the American Dream. Garrison's 
perfectionism was less a theory or doctrine than a faith in 
beginning again, a belief in the "second chance." Dismissing 
the complexities of the question of evil and promising eternal 
goodness, it spurned the past for a perpetually renewable 
innocence. His dream of personal holiness was thus an interior 
version of the myth of the frontier. Stripped of its religious 
terminology, perfectionism recounted the fable of the Amer- 
ican Adam, the new man in the new world, free not merely 
from Europe but from the burden of history. With its illu- 
sion of total freedom it encouraged a dangerous moral posture 
since it released the energies of a prophet an Isaiah to the 
nation standing beyond time in subjection to God. Thus 
the perfectionist myth contained the elements of personal and 
social tragedy: personal tragedy in that it fostered an other- 


worldliness that meant denying the reality of experience 
it left Garrison reborn but cast up on that childhood beach 
of innocence, a beach of pure white but burning sands; social 
tragedy in that it was the source of a profound disillusion- 
ment. To regenerate the world Garrison invented the Ameri- 
can saint and provided him with a power needed to make the 
holy society, while the actual materials for his new world 
were imperfect men who could understand moral ends but 
not peaceful means. 

In January, 1839, came the report that the conservative 
wing of the Massachusetts Society was plotting to capture the 
Board of Managers and dislodge the Garrisonians. They 
planned to dispose of the "woman question" by refusing to 
seat women delegates, and then establish control over the 
Liberator and bring Garrison to account. Failing in this, they 
agreed to walk out and form an organization of their own. 
Quickly Garrison sounded the alarm and issued a call to all 
his Unflinching and trusty friends" to save the Massachusetts 
Society from a plot to wrest control from the founders. He 
identified the ringleaders, all of them ministers, directed by 
the formidable Amos Phelps, still a loyal abolitionist but a 
stanch advocate of male supremacy disturbed by the prospect 
of a host of feminine anarchists. The rebels, he knew, had 
the support of the Executive Committee in New York. Ac- 
cording to rumors filtering into the Liberator office the test 
of strength would come over the question of establishing a 
new paper under the control of the society. "How mean, how 
ungrateful, how contemptible is conduct like this," Garrison 
fumed. "I should not greatly care for it if it had openly 
manifested itself but everything about it has been managed 
as secretly as possible." To counteract the revolutionary 
movement he resorted to a stratagem of his own. He waited 
until Phelps left Boston on business and then hurriedly called 


a meeting of the Board of Managers where he suggested pub- 
lishing a monthly periodical as the official organ of the Massa- 
chusetts Society. To give the appearance of impartiality the 
board appointed the absent Phelps to the committee along 
with Garrison and his henchman Quincy. 

Garrison reported the results to George Benson. "It hap- 
pened that he [Phelps] did not return in season from Haver- 
hill to consult with us, and we accordingly made our report 
to the Board ... to wit, that such a monthly ought to be 
printed, officially, to be called c The Abolitionist,' and to be 
edited by a committee of three, to be elected by ballot. This 
report was strenuously opposed by Mr- P's friend (Ayres) on 
the ground that a weekly paper was called for, and would 
doubtless be established that it would be better to defer the 
whole matter to the annual meeting. . . . The report was, 
however, accepted, and Wendell Phillips, Edmund Quincy 
and myself were elected editors." 12 He had won the first 

Meanwhile his opponents had drafted a series of resolutions 
which they lofted as trial balloons at local meetings through- 
out the state. The first of these was aimed directly at Garri- 
son's perfectionism: it deckred it the duty of every abolition- 
ist "not to content himself with merely refusing to vote for 
any man who is opposed to the emancipation of the slave r 
but to go to the polls and throw his vote for some man known 
to favor it." A second provided that where an abolitionist 
had no obvious choice between two candidates of opposing 
parties, "then he is equally bound to go to the polls, and vote 
for some true man in opposition to them both, and to do all 
he can, lawfully, to defeat their election." Both resolutions 
were aimed at the practice of "scattering" votes which Garri- 
son had recommended in cases where there was not a distinct 
choice between candidates. A third resolution struck at the 


independence of the Liberator without naming it: "Resolved, 
That a weekly and ably conducted anti-slavery paper, which 
shall take right, high, and consistent ground on this subject, 
and constantly urge abolitionists, as in duty bound, to use 
their political, as well as their moral and religious, power and 
rights for the immediate overthrow of slavery, is now greatly 
needed in Massachusetts. . . ," 13 These resolutions were 
passed at meetings in Fitchburg and in Fall River, where the 
Bristol County Anti-Slavery Society added a fourth resolu- 
tion calling on the Board of Managers to establish an inde- 
pendent paper as soon as possible. 

As the annual meeting approached, both sides rallied their 
forces and began counting their votes. As usual, Garrison 
overestimated the strength of his enemies. "My belief is," he 
wrote to George Benson, "that they will manage the affair 
with so much plausibility, and will have so many able and 
influential speakers on their side, as to be able to carry their 
point." 14 If they failed, they would surely secede; if they 
triumphed, it would be a dark hour for the cause. 

The annual meeting held in the Marlboro' Chapel on 
January 23, 1839, was the largest and the stormiest in the 
history of the society. In the chair sat Francis Jackson, the 
Boston merchant, benefactor and personal friend of Garrison. 
All of the members of the supposed cabal were present in- 
cluding Stanton, who carried the burden of the attack. Garri- 
son had rounded up a sizable delegation of Boston's free 
Negroes and an even larger collection of women. First on the 
agenda came the reading of Garrison's annual report, which 
was heavily freighted with criticism of his opponents; but 
before the insurgents could assail it, Wendell Phillips moved 
the immediate consideration of the so-called Fitchburg Reso- 
lutions. The insurgents opened the debate with a long and 
involved indictment. Then Henry Stanton took the floor 


and directed his attack at the "nullifying effects" of per- 
fectionism on anti-slavery and the use of the Liberator to 
spread this heresy. "It is not that other subjects are intro- 
duced into the Liberator" he protested, " it is that such 
other subjects are introduced subjects so injurious to the 
cause." Garrison's peace views might or might not prove 
correct, but there was no doubt that they had lowered the 
standard of abolition. 15 

In his reply Garrison resorted to an old trick: to every 
one of Stanton's charges he opposed new questions. Why 
had Stanton waited so long to break silence? Why had he 
joined the "sectarian party" in the first place to destroy 
anti-slavery or merely to discredit veterans like himself? Who 
could prove that the Liberator hurt the cause? Where was 
the man who could deny his devotion to the slave? When 
Stanton tried to interrupt, his complaints were drowned out 
by roars and cheers which, Garrison boasted, "spoke more 
eloquently and sincerely than the tongue of men ever did." 
But Stanton was not one to give up easily. "Let me ask him 
a question," he demanded of the audience. "Mr. Garrison, 
do you or do you not believe it a sin to go to the polls?" After 
some hesitation Garrison answered, "Sin for me!" Stanton 
repeated the question and again came the same answer 
it was a sin for all nonresistance men to vote and thereby 
recognize the claims of "carnal" government. Beyond this 
point Garrison would not go. Stanton could not get him to 
commit himself on the duty of other abolitionists or to admit 
that there was a conflict between nonresistance and abolition. 

In fact, Garrison did not need to bother with arguments. 
He had the votes and soon put them to work. Stanton offered 
a resolution which had technically been under consideration 
from the outset "That every member of an anti-slavery so- 
ciety who refuses, under any pretext, thus to act morally or 


politically, or counsels others to such a course, is guilty of 
gross inconsistency, and widely departs from the original 
and fundamental principles of the anti-slavery enterprise." 
This resolution, along with the other Fitchburg proposals, 
was indefinitely postponed by an overwhelming vote. When 
Charles' Torrey and Alanson St. Glair questioned the legality 
of a vote which included "female members," Francis Jack- 
son rescued the Garrisonians by ruling without appeal that 
it was in order for women to vote. Stanton's terse account 
of the episode in a letter to Birney told the story of the first 
day's combat. "Garrison found himself pushed to the wall 
on the non-government question, and with his train bands, 
he made a desperate push to sway the Society over to his 
nonresistance views. He succeeded." 16 

The climax came on the afternoon of the next day when 
one of the ministers managed to make himself heard long 
enough to introduce a milder version of Stanton's original 
resolution, simply declaring it the imperious duty of every 
abolitionist who could conscientiously do so to go to the 
polls. In the course of an angry quarrel that followed Stanton 
reminded Garrison that in 1834 he had supported Amasa 
Walker for Congress and had lectured some of his colored 
supporters now present on the need to vote. "It is false!" 
Garrison shouted. Stanton, not to be caught unawares, pulled 
out a sheaf of quotations from the Liberator and requested 
the right to read them. By now Garrison knew he was 
trapped, and so did his followers, for they refused to allow 
Stanton to proceed. The next moment they accepted Garri- 
son's counterresolution providing that "those abolitionists who 
feel themselves called upon, by a sense of duty, to go to the 
polk, and yet purposely absent themselves from the polls 
whenever an opportunity is presented to vote for a friend of 
die slave or who, when there, follow their party predilec- 


tions to the abandonment of their abolition principles are 
recreant to their high professions, and unworthy of the 
name they bear." Then the convention voted, 180 to 24, to 
accept Garrison's annual report, which advocated woman's 
rights, censured the clerical party in Massachusetts, recom- 
mended nonresistance, and criticized political action. 

"The Board deny that it is competent for any anti-slavery 
society by its votes or through its organs, to arraign either 
the political or religious views of its members." Such was the 
conclusion to Garrison's annual report. "It may with no 
more propriety decide that one man is morally bound to cast 
a vote at the polls, than that another man is morally bound to 
unite himself to a church." On the subject of political action, 
he declared, there were many conflicting opinions; all that 
any society might rightfully do, therefore, was to entreat its 
members to abide by their principles. No organization pos- 
sessed coercive power over its membership. With this provi- 
sion Garrison fastened to abolition a new orthodoxy while 
posing as the defender of minority rights. The Massachusetts 
Society was now his, but in winning control of it he had 
stripped it of eifective power. "But the point is," Stanton 
remarked dolefully to Birney, "the Society hauled down its 
flag and run [sic] up the crazy banner of the non-govern- 
ment heresy, and we had to rally around or be ostracized." 
Yet even he had to admire the ease with which Garrison had 
crushed the revolt though he admitted that "the split is wide 
and can never be closed up." 

Defeated in Boston, the insurgents appealed to the Execu- 
tive Committee in New York, which was busy with its 
own problems. The split in the Massachusetts Society was 
only part of the gradual deterioration of the fabric of 
American anti-slavery in the year 1839. There were a number 
of causes for the loss of power and prestige of the national 


organization. First of all, revivals and the spirit of Christian 
reform were on the wane. When the national society was 
founded, revivalism had been at its peak; in 1839, following 
a depression and a conservative reaction against perfectionist 
theology, the churches were withdrawing their support from 
reform enterprises and interdenominational cooperation was 
disappearing. Then, too, sectional politics and the civil 
liberties issue publicized the work of the society but at the 
cost of a national program with national goals. By 1839 the 
American Anti-Slavery Society was only a name. Still an- 
other reason for the decline of the national society was the 
petition strategy which called for decentralizing control and 
dispersing functions to local societies. The money to run 
these societies was being kept at home. As the competition for 
funds grew sharper, the national society gradually lost con- 
trol of money-raising within the states until by 1838 every 
state auxiliary had closed its territory to the society's agents. 
In Massachusetts, where Garrison's heresies aggravated the 
financial difficulty, the state society forced the Executive 
Committee to accept a system of voluntary pledges and then 
neglected to fill its own quota. It was obvious that the Garri- 
sonians, hostile to political action and displeased with inter- 
ference from New York, had no intention of meeting their 
obligations until they could control the national society. Ac- 
cordingly, in February, 1839, the committee decided to force 
the issue by notifying the Massachusetts Board of Managers 
of its intention to drop the quota system and send its own 
agents back into the state. Straightway Garrison sensed a 
challenge to his independence and dispatched Wendell Phil- 
lips to New York to kill the project. "You will see by the last 
Liberator" he wrote, "that a collision has taken place be- 
tween the New York Executive Committee and our Board. 
How it will terminate I know not. This is a sad spectacle to 


present to the enemies of our holy cause; but be the responsi- 
bility upon the heads of those who are attempting to lord it 
over the consciences of the nonresisting abolitionists." 17 

He quickly dropped the posture of self-defense when the 
Executive Committee sent Stanton and Lewis Tappan to ar- 
gue its case before the quarterly meeting of the Massachu- 
setts Society in March. Once again he laid his plans carefully, 
assembling his partisans from all over the state and assuring 
them that the meeting would decide "whether our sacred 
enterprise shall continue under the management of its old 
friends, or be given up to the control of politicians and 

sectaries." 18 

Tappan and Stanton came prepared to discuss more than 
finances. In February a prospectus had circulated in Massa- 
chusetts which announced that a new abolitionist newspaper 
was "imperiously demanded." The members of the Executive 
Committee now hoped to bring Garrison to terms by threat- 
ening to support the project. Their hopes were short-lived. 
Garrison and his lieutenants had done their work so well 
that on the test vote over the proposal to ignore the new rul- 
ing of the Executive Committee the New Yorkers were 
soundly beaten, 142 to 23. The Executive Committee now 
knew what it had long suspected, that Garrison could not 
be beaten in Massachusetts and that their only hope was a 
new state society. This was precisely the conclusion already 
reached by Garrison's conservative opponents in Massachu- 
setts, all of whom were ready for a "new organization," as 
they called it. Henry Stanton and Elizur Wright stood ready 
to help them reorganize abolition there on a political basis. 
Cheered by these reports of dissatisfaction with Garrison, 
the members of the Executive Committee looked forward to 
a new order in Massachusetts which would help sustain the 
old cause. Before their hopes were realized Garrison and his 


forces raided their New York headquarters and almost seized 
command of their society. 

Of the one hundred and eighteen Massachusetts delegates 
to the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society 
in May, Garrison controlled nearly three-fourths. He brought 
with him all his lieutenants Phillips, Loring, Oliver John- 
son, Henry Wright, Samuel Philbrick, Edmund Quincy, and 
a newcomer named John A. Collins, together with three 
women, Abby Kelley, Thankful Southwick and Anne War- 
ren Weston. These he counted on to keep the faithful in line. 
Ten additional votes from Rhode Island and a sprinkling from 
Vermont gave him nearly a hundred votes in New England 
alone. This number, added to his strength among the Pennsyl- 
vania Quakers and upstate New York delegates, could con- 
ceivably give him a majority in the convention, especially if 
his women supporters were allowed to vote. It was not sur- 
prising, then, that the very first issue confronting the four 
hundred and thirty-five delegates was the motion put by the 
opponents of woman's rights that a our roll call be made up, 
according to former usage, and men, duly appointed, shall 
constitute the roll." Not until the afternoon of the next day, 
after twelve hours of bickering, did the crucial vote come on 
the following proposition: "Resolved that the roll of this 
meeting be made by placing thereon the names of all persons, 
male and female, who are delegates from any auxiliary 
society. " With roughly one-quarter of the delegates' votes 
not recorded, the resolution was adopted by a vote of 180 
to 140. A breakdown of the voting (see top of next page) 
showed where Garrison's strength lay. 

Garrison promptly set his delegation to work. At his 
suggestion they appointed a special committee to make recom- 
mendations to the Executive Committee. The special com- 
mittee quickly urged reconsideration of all the passages in 


Ayes Nays 

Maine i 6 

New Hampshire i 5 

Vermont 5 4 

Massachusetts 72 25 

Rhode Island 10 i 

Connecticut 14 1 1 

New York 45 76 

New Jersey 9 ^ 

Pennsylvania 21 7 

Delaware i 

Ohio 2 

Illinois 2 

TOTAL 1 80 I40 19 

the annual report dealing unfavorably with political action. 
Then he presented a resolution to the general meeting which 
declared that "in the original formation of this society, it 
was not contemplated, nor is it now desired to exclude from its 
membership any persons, on account of their being pre- 
vented by conscientious scruples, from participating in all 
the measures which the mass of the society either originally 
or subsequently, may have contemplated for the advancement 
of the Anti-Slavery cause." 20 

The leadership of the political abolitionists in the society 
had fallen to the taciturn, hard-driving James Birney, now its 
secretary and chief polemicist. For some time Birney had 
contemplated shifting the anti-slavery cause from religious 
to political grounds, and now he rallied his supporters to 
meet the perfectionist challenge. Garrison's calculated piece 
of ckculocution somehow survived the attacks of Birney, 
but he was unable to defeat his rival's counterproposal maMng 
k the duty of every abolitionist to vote. Birney's resolution 


was passed by a vote of 84 to 77 only after many of the 
Garrisonians, worn out by the four-day wrangle, had re- 
turned to Boston. He was still strong enough, however, to 
defeat a proposal for sending a money-raising expedition to 
England. His motives were made clear later in the spring 
when the New England Convention voted to send Wendell 
Phillips on a similar mission. The real victory, however, lay 
in the admission of women. He still lacked the votes to man- 
age a repudiation of politics, but if he returned next year 
with enough women delegates, the story might well be 

The final act of the drama opened two weeks later at 
the New England Convention, where a handful of conserva- 
tive diehards made one last attempt to settle with him. Once 
more the woman question was introduced by Phelps and 
quickly disposed of by the Garrisonians. Weary from months 
of fruitless campaigning, Phelps and Company withdrew to 
form their own organization, the Massachusetts Abolition 
Society, whose unofficial motto read "For Men Only." After 
they left, the Garrisonians pronounced the formation of the 
new society "inexpedient" and "hostile to the genius of aboli- 
tion"; declared that the constitution of the national society, 
contrary to Birney's elaborate demonstration, did not enjoin 
voting; and closed their session after refusing a peace con- 
ference with the secessionists. 21 

The Massachusetts Abolition Society was formed for the 
ostensible purpose of freeing anti-slavery from its encum- 
brancesperfectionism, nonresistance, and woman's rights 
but it was only the last of these heresies on which the new 
society could agree. The politically minded members of the 
Executive Committee in New York waited for a sign of life 
in the new organization only to find that the society was 
first and last an anti-Garrison society. However notorious 


their former leader had become by 1839, he still embodied 
the spirit of abolition in New England and could marshal 
the supporters to prove it. Eventually any group opposed to 
him would have to stand on a political platform. Such was the 
conclusion already reached by Birney and his friends, who 
now sought to instruct the Massachusetts Abolition Society 
in the duties of voting. In an all-out attack on the "no- 
government" heretics Birney leveled his sights on the vote. 
How could abolitionists influence politics except by voting? 
What was the sense in petitioning Congress to abolish slavery 
and then refusing to elect men who would begin the work? 
How could Garrison oppose political action and still claim 
to be an abolitionist? Better that he withdraw from the society 
and seek the destruction of law and order elsewhere. 22 

Garrison professed himself shocked with Birney's "truth- 
less, slanderous, cruel" accusations "caricatures of the 
pacific precepts of the Gospel phantasms of a distorted im- 
agination." He particularly objected to the phrase "no-govern- 
ment" because the nonresistants, he asserted, held religiously 
to a government of heaven if not of men. He proceeded to 
make the dubious distinction between petitions and the vote 
on the grounds that petitions involved influencing a legislative 
body already in existence, while voting meant creating that 
body. Nonresistants could uphold the right of petition, there- 
fore, and still refuse to vote. The founders of the American 
Society, he asserted, at no time intended to make voting a 
duty, and Birney's remark that he himself had voted for 
Amasa Walker not five years ago was entirely beside the 
point. "I humbly conceive that it concerns no man, or body 
of men, to know how many or how few times I have voted 
since the adoption of the A.S. Constitution, or whether I 
have, or have not, changed my views of politics within a 
few years." Birney would do better to prove his own case 


first. Suddenly, in a bewildering contradiction, he said that 
he expected to see political action strengthened and purified 
"in exact proportion to the prevalence of the great conserva- 
tive doctrines of nonresistance." Perfectionism would work to 
pour new lifeblood into the veins of abolition "to give it 
extraordinary vigor to clothe it with new beauty to in- 
spire it with holier feelings to preserve it from corruption 
though not necessarily connected with it." If Birney failed 
to fathom his reasoning let him be silent until he could! 

At this point William Goodell, now the editor of the 
Friend of Man, joined the debate. Like Birney, he failed to 
see how Garrison's nonresistance could free the slave. On 
the contrary, he was convinced that perfectionism unwittingly 
pkyed into die hands of its enemies. By refusing to vote, the 
Garrisonians only strengthened the hold of the Whig and 
Democratic parties. In their leader's nonsensical doctrines 
radical and reactionary extremes joined to thwart the at- 
tempt of intelligent abolitionists to wipe out slavery with the 

To counter Goodell's charge Garrison was forced to re- 
sort to the doctrine of minority rights. There never would 
have been any trouble, he explained, if the political aboli- 
tionists had not tried to proscribe the nonresistants. He cared 
very little for the resolutions which conflicted with his own 
view of politics; but he would never fail to protest against 
any and every attempt to make the anti-slavery movement an 
"engine of despotism" subservient to the commands of cleri- 
cal politicians and sectarian bigots. Far from encouraging 
corrupt politics, the nonresistants were greatly pleased to see 
that men who had hitherto been spellbound by the sorcery 
of political formulas were finally casting independent votes. 
"We feel a high respect for such men: such conduct leads 
us to Imps for still better fruits." After all, the difference 


between abolitionists and nonresistants was only one of 
degree: the abolitionists aimed at freeing the Negro, non- 
resistants at delivering the whole world. Let nonresistance 
prevail and instead of having to go through a long and slow 
process of electioneering to find the right men to free the 
slaves "instead of having to wait weeks and months until 
the question of repeal has been discussed" judges, legisla- 
tors and all the people would immediately "show their deeds" 
and confess, "and bring all the statute books together y and 
burn them before all men." 23 The old vision of a righteous 
but jealous God still haunted him, a God who needed not 
man with his petty contrivances. As once with the house of 
Israel, the Lord would covenant with the American people 
and inscribe His laws in their minds, His commands in their 

In the summer of 1839 the reaction against Garrison 
deepened. The Massachusetts Abolition Society began to 
send its agents to local and county conventions, and several 
times Garrison had to dispatch a contingent of Bostonians 
to deal with the invaders. At a National Abolition Conven- 
tion held in Albany in July he was outvoted both on non- 
resistance and woman's rights and presented with the title 
"prince of disorganizes." Then the Executive Committee 
in New York pronounced its sentence of excommunication. 
In a circular sent to its agents and auxiliaries the committee 
announced that their society, "recognizing the rightful power 
and binding obligation of the government to interpose its 
arm for the delivery of the slave based its plans of operation 
upon the Imvfulness of political action. . . * But, within a few 
months past, a sentiment has been promulgated in oui: ranks* 
maintained too, by some who have been among our earliest 
and most efficient friends, denying die rightfulness of all 
human government, and consequently denying it to be a 


duty to vote for men to be rulers who will employ the 
prerogatives of government for the abolition of slavery. The 
Anti-Slavery Society can afford no countenance to such 
doctrines." 24 

While Garrison was busy fending off his critics, a group 
of abolitionists under the leadership of Myron Holley, the 
anti-slavery editor of the Rochester Freeman, met in Cleve- 
land to consider his proposition to nominate a third ticket 
for the next Presidential election. When his proposal was 
defeated, Holley returned to New York to call a local con- 
vention at Warsaw, where he won over enough advocates of 
political action to nominate Birney and Dr. Julius LeMoyne 
on an anti-slavery ticket. The third party movement was 
under way. 

The Executive Committee was badly split on the question 
of political action. On the one hand, Elizur Wright and 
Joshua Leavitt wholeheartedly favored the idea of an aboli- 
tionist political party. Stanton and Birney, while they were 
committed to the vote, doubted that a third party could 
succeed. On their side, Lewis Tappan, Weld, and Gamaliel 
Bailey, the editor of the Philanthropist, vehemently opposed 
the idea of a third party devoted entirely to abolition. Thus 
Garrison was not alone in assailing the third party move- 
ment in the autumn of 1839, and much of his ammunition 
was supplied by Western abolitionists who still thought as 
he did. 

Immediate help from the West came from a different 
source. In November he received a letter written from 
Holley's Cleveland convention which referred to a "con- 
fidential" communication from Elizur Wright to Henry 
Stanton. The unknown spy quoted excerpts from the pur- 
loined letter in which Wright complained of the wretched 
mismanagement of the Massachusetts Abolition Society. 


Wright had come to Massachusetts to edit the new society's 
paper, the Abolitionist, and already was proving more than 
an editorial match for Garrison. But Wright was discouraged 
by the apathy of the Massachusetts Abolition Society, which 
was so concerned with Garrison's heresies that it was neglect- 
ing the slavery question. In his letter to Stanton in Cleveland 
he said he hoped the convention would take "a decided step 
towards Presidential candidates." "Our labor will be more 
than half lost without them/' he continued. "The South can 
outbid us, and hence she will buy up both political parties, 
as to national politics, ad infinitum" If the abolitionist candi- 
dates were of "good stuff," the whole cause would gain 
regardless of the number of votes they won. Then Wright 
turned to the situation in Massachusetts. "One thing / know. 
Unless you do take such a step, OUR NEW ORGANIZATION HERE 
is A GONE CASE. It has been, inter nos, SHOCKINGLY MIS- 
MANAGED. Everything has been made to turn upon the 
woman question. The political has been left to fall out of 
sight." It would not do for Massachusetts, under the cir- 
cumstances, to make the first move, which would have to 
come from the national society, and very soon. "You cer- 
tainly see this," Wright reminded Stanton in conclusion. 
"Take my solemn assurance that IT is LIFE AND DEATH WITH 

us." 25 

Garrison saw the value of the "pilfered letter," as Wright 
called it, in discrediting the new state society. He demanded 
that Wright divulge its contents, and when Wright did so 
in the pages of the Abolitionist, he copied it for his own 
readers. "Ordinarily," he explained in his remarks, "private 
correspondence should be considered sacred; but not when 
... it is found to relate not to particular persons, but to 
a great public enterprise, involving the rights and liberties 
of millions of the human race." Wright, he lamented, was 


sadly altered and his newspaper lost to all principle. To 
follow him and the Massachusetts Abolition Society would be 
to descend to the depths of debased and venal bargainings. 
"The pseudo-Abolition Society must go down 'to vile dust 
from whence it sprang, Unwept, unhonored, and unsung.' " 2e 
His editorial was both judgment and prophecy: without 
needed support from the politicians, the Massachusetts Aboli- 
tion Society died quietly while the Liberator, with a thou- 
sand new subscriptions, continued to play the politics of no- 


Triumph of the Saints 

THE YEAR 1840 brought disillusion to the abolitionists 
and disaster to their organization. Garrison's decision 
to capture the national society split the anti-slavery coalition 
into two warring factions, neither of which was able to -mus- 
ter the manpower or find the funds to keep the militant anti- 
slavery spirit of the Thirties alive. His enemies, embittered 
by the coup cFetat, abandoned the society to discover in the 
light of reappraisal that their objective lay in politics and the 
vote. When the smoke of battle lifted over the annual meet- 
ing of 1840, Garrison found himself in control of an organiza- 
tion that had lost half its personnel and all its power, an 
instrument useful now only as a sounding board for his dis- 
sonant prophecies of Armageddon. 

Disorder also ruled the domestic scene as Garrison's 
debts kept pace with his growing family. His second son, 
William, was born in 1838, and another son, Wendell, two 
years later. In September, 1839, he rented a house in Cam- 
bridgeport, "very neat in its appearance," though hardly 
more spacious than the Boston quarters. Yet it was cheap 
two hundred and fifty dollars a year a factor that weighed 
heavily with him. His ever-faithful man Friday, Oliver 
Johnson, concerned as always for the welfare of his chief, 
promised to board with them and help repair the family 


budget; but the pile of unpaid bills kept reminding Garri- 
son of the chaotic state of his finances. "At present, I am 
greatly embarrassed for want of money," he confessed to 
George Benson. One hundred and fifty dollars of his salary 
was still owing, and the Massachusetts Society had yet to 
pay him his expenses for the current year* The cost of moving 
and furnishing the new house had drained the last of his 
resources. To meet immediate expenses he borrowed a 
hundred dollars from Francis Jackson and another hundred 
from Samuel Philbrick, the retired Quaker merchant and 
abolitionist. "They will expect ine to fulfill my word," he 
explained to Benson. "My object in writing to you is to know 
whether you can borrow that amount for me, so as to give 
me more time to 'turn myself.' " a He never doubted that the 
Lord would provide, but it seemed sometimes that He was an 
unconscionably long time getting around to it. 

Part of the borrowed money went to care for his brother. 
After twenty years at sea James had suddenly appeared in the 
Boston Navy Yard, still an alcoholic and now mortally ill 
with cancer of the spine. Garrison secured a leave of absence 
for him and set about getting him discharged from the Navy, 
an unpleasant job that involved asking favors of Congress- 
man Caleb Gushing. Gushing proved helpful, however, and 
"poor James" was released and came home to Cambridge- 
port. At Lloyd's suggestion he began writing his memoirs, 
a nightmarish account of his boyhood fall from grace and 
his years aboard ships of the line in the United States Navy. 
His descriptions of the inhumanity aboard ship and on the 
beach of tyrannical officers and drunken fights, floggings 
and depravity present a remarkable picture of life in the 
nineteenth-century American Navy. Also at his brother's 
ur gi n gi James filled his confession with a bitter reflection 
on the "Fatal Poison." "That I am a doomed man is certain, 


and can not avoid Fate," he admitted, adding perhaps for 
Lloyd's benefit, "and none but God, and my self, can tell 
what I have suffered in body and in mind for my rashness." 

Life with his virtuous brother must have been hard for 
James, who found the abolitionists' unctuous manners and 
"stentorian lungs" too much for his liking. Lloyd expected 
gratitude, and James tried hard to be grateful for the op- 
pressive kindliness and the sermonizing. Helen he came to love 
deeply before he died, and perhaps it was she who reconciled 
him to the misery of his last two years. Lloyd, his memories 
of boyhood already dim, saw only a pathetic example of the 
evils of liquor in his wasted brother. "Earnest is my prayer 
to God, that he may be led to review his past life," he wrote 
to his wife, "and to perceive how widely he has departed 
from the path of rectitude, to the ruin of his immortal soul." 2 
Repentance and reconciliation the old prescription for 
salvation. James, in his turn, might have prescribed humility 
for his brother. 

The financial troubles of the Liberator were solved tem- 
porarily by terminating Knapp's contract as printer. Knapp 
was inefficient and had lately taken to drink, but he was also 
an original partner who had helped sustain the paper through 
seven lean years. Over his protests the Board of Managers 
appointed a committee consisting of Francis Jackson, Ellis 
Gray Loring, Edmund Quincy, and Samuel Philbrick to 
come to terms with him and henceforth manage the finances. 
After a consultation with Garrison the committee decided 
to pay Knapp one hundred and fifty dollars. Knapp not 
unnaturally made his grievances known to the whole aboli- 
tionist community, for he reasoned that Garrison was aban- 
doning a friend to save his paper. Garrison suffered few 
qualms of conscience. "To say that I separated from my friend 
Knapp with great reluctance and pain of mind that I 


exerted myself to the utmost to retain him as printer of the 
Liberator that I greatly compassionated his forlorn condi- 
tion, and did everything in his behalf that friendship and 
sympathy could suggest is simply to assert the truth, which 
all my friends in this quarter know full well/' 3 For those who 
preferred it, Knapp's version was available for the asking. 

The year 1840 opened on a "political gulf that yawns to 
devour." 4 In western New York the political abolitionists 
were driving toward the formation of a third party. In New 
York City the Executive Committee was preparing to close 
up shop and turn the direction of the movement over to its 
auxiliaries. Some of the New York group, Leavitt, Stanton, 
and Birney, were ready to join forces with the third party 
men upstate. It seemed to Garrison that only the Massachu- 
setts Society remained loyal to the old cause of moral suasion. 

His friend and chief adviser Henry Wright, who was 
scouting abolitionist activities in western New York with 
one eye on the millennium and the other on scheming poli- 
ticians, warned of the coming "desperate struggle for political 
power" at the spring meeting of the national society and ad- 
vised him "to exert all your influence in Connecticut and 
Rhode Island to get delegates to New York in May." 5 Garri- 
son took his advice and spent the early spring making the 
circuit of local and county conventions, submitting resolu- 
tions that bristled with hostility to church and state. At a 
meeting in Lynn in March he gave an indication of how far 
he was prepared to go by submitting two resolutions which 
were passed without dissent. 

Resolved, That Freedom and Slavery are natural and irreconcil- 
able enemies; that it is morally impossible for them to endure to- 
gether in the same nation; and that the existence of the one can 
only be secured by the destruction of the other. 


Resolved, That slavery has exercised a pernicious and most 
dangerous influence in the affairs of this Union from its founda- 
tion to the present time; that this influence has increased, is in- 
creasing, and cannot be destroyed, except by the destruction of 
slavery or the Union. 

Meanwhile the advocates of a third party were completing 
their plans for independent nominations. At Albany on the 
first day of April a convention called by Myron Holley and 
Gerrit Smith agreed on the Presidential ticket of Birney and 
Thomas Earle, the Pennsylvania Quaker. It was a small 
beginning: the Albany Convention numbered only one hun- 
dred and twenty delegates, of whom one hundred and four 
were from western New York. Even then, the vote to nomi- 
nate a ticket had been surprisingly close 44 to 33. Never- 
theless, the call to "unite patriots, philanthropists and Chris- 
tians, to put down the slavery of all parries, and put up the 
principles of the Declaration of Independence, at the ballot 
box" was a challenge Garrison had to meet. 7 

Reviewing the rise of the third party movement, he was 
sure he discerned a pattern. The trouble began when Stanton 
and Birney decided to build a party engine for their own 
selfish purposes. They had worked their mischief in Massa- 
chusetts until his loyal abolitionists rallied to rout them. 
Defeated there, they retired to the West, where they in- 
veigled Holley into calling the Albany Convention. The final 
step would be a desperate push at the annual meeting in 
New York to convert the parent society into a political 
party. This he had to prevent at all costs. 

He began by examining the philosophy of the third party 
movement. Gerrit Smith, one of its leaders, argued that since 
neither the Whig nor the Democratic Party could be purged 
of its pro-slavery elements, abolitionists were forced to 
create one of their own. Garrison replied with a curious 


analogy. There was no more reason, he said, for "a war of 
extermination" against the two existing parties than for one 
against Methodism or Unitarianism. "If we must have a new 
political party to abolish slavery, must we not also have a 
new religious sect for the same purpose? . . ." American 
politics needed new men, not new labels; Christian voters, 
not party hacks. In voting for an enlightened abolitionist 
without regard to party labels the anti-slavery contingent 
did all that was required. Just how abolitionists could secure 
nominations in parties openly hostile to them he did not 

The work of explaining nonresistant perfectionism was 
made doubly difficult by his inability to think through to 
logical conclusions. In the first place, he was not a thorough- 
going nonresistant, as two recent examples clearly showed. 
The Massachusetts Militia Law exempted only Quakers and 
provided a fine for anyone else who failed to train at the 
annual muster. When his friends asked his opinion on the 
propriety of paying the fine, he said that he saw no reason 
"why a military fine may not be paid, as well as any other 
exacted by a government based on force." "If I refuse to bear 
arms if I will not procure a substitute if I bear an open 
and uncompromising testimony against the military system 
I do all, in my opinion, that is required by Christianity." 8 
Principle need not prevent a sensible accommodation. Then 
when the legislature opened up the liquor traffic by repealing 
die Massachusetts License Law, he fought the repeal and 
even proposed a new and more stringent regulation. Civil law 
had its uses even for a millenarian. 

As the third party movement gathered momentum in the 
spring of 1840, criticism of Garrison increased. Some of the 
political abolitionists accused him of secretly favoring Harri- 
son. Others hurled gibes at "that fellow," as Gamaliel Bailey 


called him, "with his troop of males and females." William 
Goodell, now thoroughly convinced of his old friend's ruth- 
less will to power, composed a satire entitled Hoix to Make 
a Pope. Take an ardent and strong-minded leader, Goodell 
said, surround him with unquestioning friends, and soon the 
belief will spread that he is infallible. So it had been with the 
bishops of Rome and so it was now with William Lloyd 

Garrison's reply was An Address to the Abolitionists of 
the United States, commissioned by the Massachusetts Society 
and circulated as a warning to tried-and-true abolitionists to 
disregard the Albany Convention. "The call is presumptuous, 
comes from no authority, and should receive general con- 
demnation." It was evident, he continued, that there was a 
"small but talented" body of restless men in western New 
York who were determined to form a third party with the 
hope of being lifted by it into office. Whether theirs was 
a desire for political spoils or simply an error in judgment, 
the damage to the anti-slavery cause was the same. "Let us 
not sanction a precedent, which shall encourage, nay author- 
ize a few irresponsible individuals at any time to appoint a 
national gathering of abolitionists, as it may suit their caprice 
or ambition, in order to promote some selfish or local pur- 
pose." 9 Elizur Wright quickly retaliated with a blast at the 
Board of Managers of the Massachusetts Society for hiding 
behind their roaring giant. Garrison countered by impeach- 
ing Wright as a trimmer and dismissing his paper as a travesty. 
On and on raged the battle of epithets. 

Already there were signs of disaffection in New England. 
In Maine the state society came out for political action; and 
in western Massachusetts, where the Whigs were traditionally 
strong, anti-slavery men began to look to the party for 
leadership. Garrison lashed out at the politicians. Moral 


suasion, he cried, had always worked in the past why 
abandon it now? "Yes, blessed be God, it can be done, in 
His name, and by the power of his truth! " 10 He was preaching 
to the converted: not many abolitionists outside his own 
bailiwick could be convinced of the "depravity" of politi- 
cal abolition or the "Machiavellism" of its leaders. As 
though he realized the weakness of his case against a third 
party, he dwelt on the futility of political plans and advised 
his followers not to concern themselves with the forthcoming 
election. It was possible, he admitted, but not likely that a 
change in administration would prove helpful, and anyway, 
the abolitionists were powerless to decide the matter. "Their 
great and only concern should be, to revolutionize the public 
sentiment of the land by truth and light; and having done this, 
they will have accomplished the overthrow of slavery." 11 
The task of actually freeing the slaves he would leave to 
others, but not to those "unprincipled" abolitionists who 
needed the franchise in order to keep from walking crook- 
edly, nor to ambitious schemers who wanted to be elected 
to office. Such men lacked faith in God and the simple in- 
strumentalities which He had adopted for the suppression 
of evil in the world. If moral suasion had multiplied ten 
thousand efficient societies in eight years, who knew what 
the future held? "A little can and will leaven the whole 
lump." 12 

But what then? How were the people to show their dis- 
approval of slavery except by voting it down? Just what did 
he want the American people to do? His silence suggested 
that he opposed the third party movement because he knew 
he could not control it, because he saw a day coming when 
abolitionists would cease to listen to him. This fear, his 
critics reasoned, lay behind his decision to take over the 
American Anti-Slavery Society. 


The society Garrison set out to capture in May, 1840, 
was already moribund. All hope of an effective program 
died the previous December with the refusal of the Massa- 
chusetts Society to provide any money whatever. The Ex- 
ecutive Committee made one last desperate appeal at a special 
meeting in January, but no funds were forthcoming from 
delegates who knew all too well just how weak the society 
had grown. Instead, a committee was appointed and given 
the power to decide the future of the organization and plans 
were made for the transference of the Emancipator to the 
New York City Anti-Slavery Society. The committee issued 
its report recommending that the national organization either 
be allowed to operate where it pleased or be disbanded. On 
the assumption that the old privilege would never be re- 
stored, the Executive Committee looked forward to dissolving 
the society in May, disposing of its stock of tracts and 
pamphlets, and completing the sale of the Emancipator. In 
the meantime they pondered Leavitt's suggestion that they 
continue to operate ex officio as a clearinghouse. 

When news of the Executive Committee's plans reached 
Boston, Garrison issued his countermanifesto. "That society 
must and will be sustained, under the guidance of a trust- 
worthy committee, let who will plot to destroy it, whether 
treacherous friend, or open foe." is He called for a strong 
delegation of "unswerving, uncorruptible friends of the 
cause" to go to New York and save it. The same power 
which had sought the life of the Massachusetts Society, he 
told them, now threatened the whole movement. "It has 
thrown its mask aside, and unblushingly declares that our 
sacred cause cannot be safely trusted in the hands of 'the 
common people' die farmers, mechanics, and workingmen 
but must be placed under the control of a select body of 
men in order to give it respectability and success!" To ac- 


compUsh their ends the traitors would come to the annual 
meeting ready to demand the repeal of the rule allowing 
women to vote. Then they would try to rush through the 
convention a resolution making voting mandatory for mem- 
bers of the society and outlawing the nonresistant aboli- 
tionists. It would require great vigilance on the part of the 
real friends of the slave to defeat this scheme. "In what- 
ever part of the country you reside, we call you to rally at 
the meeting as one man." 14 

Unwilling to leave it to chance or the uncertain consciences 
of men to provide him with a majority, he decided to pack the 
annual meeting, a fairly simple maneuver since there was no 
rule limiting the number of delegates from any one state. This 
meant, in effect, that the society would fall to anyone with 
enough votes. His votes would have to come from Abby 
Kelley's feminine anti-slavery contingent whose headquarters 
was the Essex County Society in Lynn. The problem of trans- 
porting the ladies along with an unusually large delegation of 
men was solved by the general agent, John Collins, who 
suggested chartering a special train to Providence and from 
there a steamboat to New York. The fare was cheap, and 
arrangements could be made for boarding the delegates in 
the homes of colored friends in the city for twenty-five cents 
a day. The results of Collins's work were described by Garri- 
son himself. "A few came from the land of 'down east' and 
the thick-ribbed hills of the Granite State; but especially 
from the counties of old Essex and Middlesex, and Norfolk, 
and Plymouth, and Suffolk, in Massachusetts, they came 
promptly and numerously at the summons of HUMANITY, in 
spite of 'hard times' and the busy season of the year, to save 
our heaven-approved association from dissolution, and our 
broad platform from being destroyed." 15 

From the railing of the steamship Rhode Island Garrison 


watched "a heart-stirring and rare spectacle" as hundreds of 
his delegates marched up the gangplank while Collins checked 
them off. "There never has been such a mass of 'ultraism* 
afloat," he wrote, "since the first victim was stolen from the 
fire-smitten and blood-red soil of Africa." A three-day 
nor'easter cleared just as the Rhode Island put down Nar- 
ragansett Bay, a sign, some thought, of God's pleasure with 
His annotated. A glorious sunset and full moon put the 
passengers in the proper spirit for a night of anti-slavery 
lectures seven in all and when the ship docked in New 
York it was dawn. Four hundred and fifty delegates from 
New England descended on the city ready to rescue the 
American Anti-Slavery Society from oblivion. Four hundred 
of them came from seaboard counties in Massachusetts; one 
hundred and fifty were women; twenty-seven only were 
nonresistants. "They were, indeed, the moral and religious 
elite of New England abolitionism, who have buckled on the 
anti-slavery armor to wear to the end of the conflict, or to 
the close of life." 

The annual meeting was held in the Tappans' Fourth Free 
Church on the corner of Madison and Catherine Streets. 
Arthur Tappan, the president of the society, hearing of the 
impending crisis, chose not to attend, a tactical error that 
allowed Francis Jackson to preside. The Executive Committee 
had known that the Garrisonians were beating the bushes for 
delegates and had hurried to follow their example. Over a 
thousand delegates crowded the first session and sat rest- 
lessly through the interminable opening ceremonies which 
could not hide the rising tension. Then came hours of debate 
filled with pious hypocrisy and mutual recrimination; but 
when a vote was finally taken on the admission of women, 
Garrison's party won 557 to 45 1. 16 He had used his "Lynn 
majority" to good advantage. Lewis Tappan promptly re- 


signed from the Business Committee and soon thereafter led 
the exodus of anti-Garrisonians from the hall Over four 
hundred left the meeting for a conference room in the 
church basement, where they drew up plans for a new 
society. Upstairs the Garrisonians rejoiced. "It was our anti- 
slavery boatload that saved our society from falling into the 
hands of the new organizers, or more correctly, disorgan- 
izes/' Garrison boasted, not without truth. 

While the secessionists launched their new American and 
Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, the Garrisonians, or the "old 
organization," as they now called themselves, made quick 
work of refashioning their institution. First they elected 
Lucretia Mott, Maria Weston Chapman, and Lydia Child 
to the new Executive Committee and then passed resolutions 
censuring the secessionists and denouncing both the Ameri- 
can church and the third party movement. "We have made 
clean work of everything/' Garrison chortled, " adopted 
the most thorough-going resolutions, and taken the strongest 
ground, with crashing unanimity." 17 

The old organization now "our society" hardly seemed 
worth the fight. The treasury was empty, its stock of litera- 
ture gone, the allegiance of most of the state organizations 
lost. From now on, the American Anti-Slavery Society func- 
tioned chiefly as an auxiliary of the Massachusetts Society. 
The secessionists had taken the Emancipator with them, and 
there were almost no funds available for a new paper. Un- 
perturbed, Garrison set up headquarters in Nassau Street 
as a temporary clearinghouse for the little business which 
now befell the organization. Mrs. Child agreed to try editing 
the National Anti-Slavery Standard, the new paper, and 
delegates were appointed to the World Anti-Slavery Con- 
vention to be held in June in London. Garrison was well 
pleased with his work. "Our campaign has just closed and a 


severe siege we have had of it, and a glorious triumph, we 
have achieved." What the fruits of victory would be no one 

Garrison always represented the schism of 1840 as the 
victory of progressive reform over the reactionary forces of 
sectarianism and political double-dealing. The real issues 
were somewhat different. In the first place, the division was 
not solely the result of woman's rights: The participation of 
women was only the immediate cause. The Executive 
Committee and its allies knew that Garrison planned to use 
his women delegates to defeat political anti-slavery and intro- 
duce the principles of no-government. Lewis Tappan had 
seen the issue clearly from the beginning. The national 
society broke apart, he told Weld, "chiefly because Garrison 
and his party . . . foisted upon the Amer. And S. Soc. the 
woman question, no government question, etc., and the bad 
spirit shown by the Liberator, etc." Garrison had been the 
aggressor from the beginning. "W.L.G. introduced the ques- 
tion into the Anti S. Soc. to make an experiment upon the 
public. He had avowed before that there were subjects 
paramount to the Anti S. cause. And he was using the Society 
as an instrument to establish these notions. Since he intro- 
duced this question the slave has been lost sight of mainly." 18 
The capture of the national society marked the height of 
Garrison's anti-slavery career and ironically the beginning of 
its decline. Having rejected politics and turned his back on the 
church, he could lead his "old society" in just one direction 
toward the principle of "No Union with Slaveholders" and 
the doctrine of secession. 

Leaving the affairs of the society in a muddle, he hurried 
off to London in hope of arriving in time for the first session 
of the World Convention. The World Anti-Slavery Conven- 
tion had been called by the British abolitionists at the sug- 


gestion of the New York Committee to discuss the progress 
of West Indian emancipation and accelerate the work in 
America. The first call was issued to all "friends of the 
slave/' but when the English learned that the Massachusetts 
abolitionists planned to demonstrate for the rights of women 
by appointing female delegates, they sent a second invitation 
reminding the Americans that "gentlemen only were ex- 
pected to attend." These careful reminders went unheeded 
in Massachusetts, where Maria Chapman and Harriet Mar- 
tineau, an honorary member of the Massachusetts Society, 
had already been appointed delegates. 

After the secession, the "old organization" appointed Garri- 
son, Charles Remond, William Adams and Nathaniel P. 
Rogers as its accredited delegates. Remond, a free Negro of 
intelligence and ability, was one of the most effective 
lecturers in Garrison's collection. Just thirty years old and 
wholly self-educated, he had joined the Garrisonians three 
years before and served as agent of the Massachusetts Society. 
He was a proud man with a quick temper and a savage wit, 
and as a campaigner did more than anyone except Freder- 
ick A. Douglass to acquaint audiences in the Northeast with 
the intellectual potential of the Negro. William Adams was 
a Quaker from Rhode Island, a loyal Garrisonian and a man 
of unexceptionable parts. Nathaniel P. Rogers, the fourth 
member of the delegation, had only recently taken up the 
anti-slavery cause and was destined to become a particularly 
painful thorn in Garrison's side. Rogers once boasted that 
he could "out-Garrison Garrison," and so he could. Ten years 
older than his chief, secretary of the New Hampshire Society 
and nonresistant editor of the Herald of Freedom, he had 
emerged suddenly in the stormy days of 1839 as a valuable 
ally and was being groomed for the new post at the Anti- 
Slavery Standard in case Mrs. Child refused. "The more I 


see of Rogers, I love him," Garrison wrote to Helen from 
New York, "and his friendship for me is ardent and sin- 
cere." 19 It would remain so for three years. 

The "new organization" also sent delegates to the World 
Convention, among them Birney and Stanton, who were 
resolved on preventing Garrison from bamboozling the 
British abolitionists as he had the Americans. Joshua Leavitt 
spoke for all of the secessionists when he expressed the hope 
that the winds would prove "over-organized and delay their 
champion." Leavitt's wish was granted the Columbus with 
its radical cargo took twenty-five days to reach Liverpool. 
Garrison improved his time by remonstrating with the cap- 
tain for putting Remond in steerage, and studying the con- 
dition of the sailors in the merchant marine. When things 
grew dull, he chided the passengers for their drinking habits 
and loose morals. He was glad to part company with such 
"immoral creatures" when on June 16 the Columbus docked 
in Liverpool. By then the World Convention had been in 
session for three days. 

He arrived at Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street to 
find the fight for admission of women already lost. In the 
balcony sat Lucretia Mott, Ann Phillips, Elizabeth Cady 
Stanton and the rest of the women delegates surrounded by 
attentive gentlemen from the floor but denied the right to 
participate. Wendell Phillips, heeding his wife's instructions 
not to "shilly-shally," had done his best to crack English 
reserve. At the opening session he moved that all persons 
accredited by any anti-slavery society be admitted to the 
convention, but immediately the defenders of male order 
protested, English clergyman vying with American to ex- 
plain why the ladies, amiable as they were, had no right to 
be there. Phillips's motion was struck down, his protest tabled, 


and his female admirers escorted to the balcony, where Garri- 
son found them. 20 

Apprised of the situation, Garrison agreed not to disturb 
the convention "by renewing the agitation of the subject 
already decided," but he was determined to add his protest 
by joining the ladies. Lucretia Mott thought it a foolish 
gesture and said so, though Rogers was sure their silent pro- 
test shocked the English. "Haman never looked more blank 
on seeing Mordecai sitting in the king's gate with his hat 
on, than did this 'Committee in Conference' on seeing us 
take the position we did." 21 The Garrisonians stayed with 
the women for the rest of the convention, deaf to the en- 
treaties from the floor to come down. Daniel O'Connell 
objected to the exclusion of women, as did John Stuart Mill's 
friend John Bowring, but the majority of the delegates 
were well satisfied with the location of the ladies and their 
champion. Garrison had the bad grace to suggest to friends 
that Phillips had mismanaged the affair, and wrote to his wife 
that "had we arrived a few days before the opening of the 
Convention, we could have carried our point triumphantly." 22 
His unfair remark told only of his dissatisfaction with the 
results of the convention. 

He was dissatisfied with his whole visit, which contrasted 
sharply with his reception seven years earlier. Thanks to 
Birney and Stanton the English abolitionists knew all about his 
"steal." There were the usual elaborate dinner parties at 
Samuel Gurney's and William Ball's and luncheons with 
Powell Buxton and Lord Morpeth. The Duchess of Suther- 
land and Lady Byron lavished attention on Remond and 
Rogers, while Mrs. Opie and Elizabeth Fry saw to it that 
Garrison did not lack for edifying entertainment. But he was 
not asked to speak at the anniversary meeting of the British 
and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, though Birney and Stan- 


ton were. He did manage an impromptu talk at a soiree fol- 
lowing the meeting, where he aired his "singular views," as 
Birney called them. "He has gained, I think, but few ad- 
herents to them," Birney observed with some satisfaction. 23 
One evening he surprised his hosts by contending for a uni- 
versal reform of language; at another dinner party he as- 
tonished the well-fed guests with a lengthy discourse on 
perfectionism. "I let out all my heresies, in my intercourse 
with those who invite us, and have made no little stir in con- 
sequence," he reported proudly to his wife. 24 Birney thought 
his performances laughable, and Elizabeth Stanton, Henry's 
outspoken bride, remarked that every time he opened his 
mouth out came folly. At still another soiree he proceeded to 
bear "faithful testimony" against Drs. James Hoby and Fran- 
cis A. Cox, revered figures in the English religious community, 
because they had not condemned all aspects of Southern life. 
Perhaps it was the general expression of disappointment among 
his hosts or simply his own at being elbowed aside for the 
representatives of the "new organization." At any rate, he 
was content to be hurried off to Scotland by Thompson for 
a series of meetings at Edinburgh and Glasgow. "Though I 
like England much, on many accounts," he told Helen, "I 
can truly say that I like Scotland better." 25 

In Glasgow he encountered opposition of a new kind. Out- 
side the Emancipation Chapel where he was to speak he 
found Chartist pickets distributing handbills captioned Have 
We No White Slaves? and exposing the working conditions 
in the mills and mines. He took one and read it to the as- 
sembly inside. Were there white slaves as well as black? 
"NO," he replied. " broad as is the empire, and extensive 
as are the possessions of Great Britain, not a single white 
slave can be found in them all." There was a difference be- 
tween chattel slaves and "those who are only suffering from 


certain forms of political injustice or governmental oppres- 
sion." Admittedly, there were poor people dying of starva- 
tion and little children working long hours in mills, and there 
were also hundreds of thousands of laborers deprived of their 
political rights. But British abolitionists were not blind to 
"suffering humanity" at home; they were friends of the 
poor and lowly. "Are they not so?" he asked. "No! No!" 
called out several voices. "Then," he stammered, "I ain 
very sorry to hear it." After he sat down a Chartist attempted 
to answer him only to be shouted down. "I, for one, should 
have had no objections to his being heard," Garrison later 
explained, "yet he was clearly out of order, and had no just 
cause to complain of the meeting." 26 This kind of agitator 
with his "rude behavior" and "criminal conduct" upset 
him. Where were the appeals to reason, justice and the law 
of God where the unwavering reliance upon Christian 
truth? It was clear that England and Scotland were no 
longer as he had remembered them. 

In London, Garrison talked with Robert Owen but found 
the old man's ideas "absurd and demoralizing," wild dreams 
that would "make shipwreck of any scheme under its guid- 
ance, in due season." 27 Perhaps a man's environment did af- 
fect his development, and there was no doubt that a drastic 
reorganization of society was needed, but an inner rather 
than an outward reordering, a change of heart, not socialism. 

Garrison's conservatism had deep roots. As a moralist first 
and last he believed that any permanent change in the social 
structure would have to be preceded by a general renovation 
of the human heart. Thus his views tended to uphold the 
political status quo and to defend laissez-faire capitalism by 
redirecting the current of reform into channels remote from 
the economic and social evils of his day. In the first issue 
of the Liberator he had denounced attempts "to inflame the 


minds of our working classes against the more opulent. . . . 
That public grievances exist, is undoubtedly true, but they 
are not confined to any one class of society." Ten years had 
not altered this view. He noted the glaring contrasts in Eng- 
lish society, the "suffering and want staring me in the face 
on the one hand" and the "opulence and splendor dazzling 
my vision on the other," 28 yet no solution occurred to him 
except that of "going about doing good." Here was the 
paradox of his moral suasion: just as the doctrine of immediate 
emancipation logically implied a social revolution of epic 
proportions, so his condemnation of the evils of an irresponsi- 
ble industrial system called for a profound economic change. 
In neither instance was he willing to face the consequences 
of his moral vision. 

In August he was back in Boston for a reception at Marl- 
boro' Chapel where he struck a new patriotic note which 
must have startled his audience. "I thank God that I was 
born in the United States," he told them, "that my field of 
labor lies in the United States." He saw now that the English 
abolitionists those once worthy members of the British 
and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society had been remiss in their 
duty toward their own people. British anti-slavery had never 
been tried in the fiery furnace; it shunned the company of the 
real American abolitionists "with pro-slavery and delicacy 
of feeling." At last the truth! He had been rejected and his 
followers ignored. The Atlantic community of feeling had 
dissolved, and henceforth Americans could look only to their 
own resources. 

These resources seemed meager indeed in the autumn of 
1840. Shorn of most of its auxiliaries, the old organization 
was on the verge of collapse. Each number of the Anti- 
Slavery Standard promised to be the last; rent was owing on 
the Nassau Street headquarters. Ignoring the advice of Quincy 


and Phillips, who foresaw bankruptcy, he decided to send 
an agent to England to solicit funds among the few English 
abolitionists still loyal to him. The mission was a "dernier 
ressort," undertaken with great reluctance, but the critical 
condition of the society made an appeal for funds imperative. 
Without aid from abroad, he admitted, "I am apprehensive 
that the American Anti-Slavery Society, with the National 
Standard, Rogers and all, must sink." 29 He did not exag- 
gerate the situation was desperate. 

The financial troubles of the old organization were com- 
pounded by numerous defections from nonresistance as the 
Presidential election approached. Collins, who was struggling 
to hold the loyalty of anti-slavery men in western Massachu- 
setts, advised Garrison again and again to adapt his pro- 
gram to withstand a "whirlwind of Political enthusiasm. . . . 
I really wish you understood perfectly the exact position 
the friends of the old organization hold to the two great 
political parties. . . . They are politically intoxicated. The 
enthusiasm of Bank and Sub-Treasury, Harrison and Reform, 
has taken entire possession of them." 30 Typical of this new 
attitude was the case of George Bradburn, a minister from 
Attleboro, a loyal Garrisonian and friend of the Liberator. 
Bradburn had suddenly made up his mind to vote Whig be- 
cause the party, at least in Massachusetts, was more friendly 
to the abolitionists than the Democratic Party* Garrison dis- 
missed such explanations as conniving at robbery. "Let no 
whig or democrat abolitionist," he implored, "sacrifice his 
anti-slavery principles, or go with his party, at the coming 
election, on the grounds that he thinks or knows that some- 
one else will prove recreant." 31 Yet this was precisely what 
was happening everywhere. "The fact is," he admitted rue- 
fully, "and we cannot and ought not to hide it, a large pro- 
portion of the abolitionists in this State and elsewhere, are 


determined to go with their party at the approaching elec- 
tion; and they will not attend our meetings until after the 
election, even if at all. This is not less humiliating than true." 32 

To recall Massachusetts abolitionists to their duty he held 
two conventions in October. The first at Worcester proved 
"very interesting, but the number of delegates not large," 
and the second at Springfield came "very near being a total 
failure." Each week the Liberator censured the "arbitrary 
and prescriptive" spirit of political parties, and its editor re- 
minded readers that the organization of a party "was never 
dreamed of by abolitionists in the days of their purity and 
simple reliance on truth." He even went so far as to identify 
the third party with the new organization "full of self-seeking, 
and swayed by sectarian motives." It was with obvious relief 
that he announced the end of the Presidential campaign. It had 
been all of the devil, nothing of God. The American people 
were obviously losing their self-respect. Log cabins, hard 
cider, parades and triumphal arches what were these but 
conclusive proof of the "besotted state" of the public mind? 33 
With regret he turned from the unenlightening spectacle of 
democratic poEtics to the question of universal reform and 
attended the Chardon Street Convention, that singular con- 
ference of reformers and cranks which met for three days in 
November without reaching any conclusions or passing a 
single resolution. 

Emerson has left the best account of the Chardon Street 
Convention. "Madmen, madwomen, men with beards, Dunk- 
ers, Muggletonians, Gome-outers, Groaners, Agrarians, 
Seventh-day Baptists, Quakers, Abolitionists, Calvinists, Uni- 
tarians and Philosophers all came successively to the top, 
and seized their moment, if not their hour, wherein to chide, 
or pray, or preach, or protest." 34 The truculent prophet 
Joseph Palmer was there striding through the assembly with 


his holy beard and defying any man to cut it off. So was 
"that flea of conventions" Abby Folsom, primed with her 
interminable harangue in defense of freedom of speech. Also 
Dr. George W. F. Mellen, another cracked vessel of the Lord 
who frequently interrupted the proceedings. But there were 
also Theodore Parker and George Ripley, Bronson Alcott, 
Emerson himself, William Ellery Channing and his nephew 
William Henry Channing, the ubiquitous Henry Wright, 
Abby Kelley, the recluse poet Jones Very, Father Taylor, the 
sailor-preacher, and Maria Chapman all met for a sharing of 
views, bound together by their search for something "better 
and more satisfying than a vote or a definition." 

The convention had been called by the Friends of Uni- 
versal Reform for the purpose of examining "the validity of 
the views which generally prevail in this country as to the 
divine appointment of the first day of the week as the 
Christian Sabbath, and to inquire into the origin, nature, 
and authority of the Ministry and the Church, as now 
existing." 35 Garrison had not signed the original call he 
believed the convention "premature" but that fact did 
not prevent the press generally from ascribing to him the 
whole notion of an "infidel convention." Once he learned of 
the "mighty stir" the meeting would make in Boston, how- 
ever, he joined in doing "with our might what our hands find 
to do." 36 

The Chardon Street Convention was one of the few meet- 
ings in a lifetime of conferences and convocations in which 
Garrison found himself on the Right with the conservatives. 
It opened with a lively skirmish over the question introduced 
by the Gome-Outers of abolishing parliamentary procedure 
altogether and proceeding without chairman and without 
restraint. Though the motion was defeated, parliamentary 
order was not forthcoming. Joshua Himes demanded that 


the convention accept only the Old and New Testaments as 
proof for all arguments. When a storm of protest descended 
on Himes and his fellow ministers, Garrison came to their 
aid by requesting that all those who rejected divine authority 
be barred from participating. "I expressly declared that I 
stood upon the Bible, and the Bible alone, in regard to my 
views . . . and that I felt that if I could not stand trium- 
phantly on that foundation, I could stand nowhere in the 
universe." 37 The convention would be bound by no such 
niggling rule as this. When John Pierpont introduced the 
proposition "That the first day of the week is ordained by 
divine authority as the Christian Sabbath," Scriptural proof 
was tossed to the winds. Accompanied by cries of "Infidel!" 
and "Atheist!" or "Priest!" and "Bigot!" the speakers, often 
two or three at once, clamored to be heard. Periodically Abby 
Folsorn or the unfortunate Dr. Mellen conducted a foray on 
the rostrum only to be turned back by saner minds intent on 
hearing the ponderous arguments of Amos Phelps and Dr. 
Samuel Osgood. Father Taylor spoke fervently and fre- 
quently. Emerson, who confessed to watching the clock at 
philanthropic conventions, said nothing, preferring to leave 
it to the genius of Bronson Alcott to summarize the sense 
of the meeting in orphic sayings. 

It was all delightfully zany no minutes, no resolutions, 
no reports, no results simply "the elucidation of truth 
through free discussion." 38 The truth which these men were 
seeking lay outside the Jacksonian compass, beyond all proj- 
ects, plans, blueprints, all "small, sour, and fierce schemes." 
The Chardon Street Convention was a strange collection of 
reformers in whom the social sentiment was weak and the 
dictates of what Emerson called "the great inward Com- 
mander" were particularly strong. The very principle the 
members admitted seeking they had already found, for they 


came to the Chardon Street Chapel believing that the indi- 
vidual was the world. They were philosophical anarchists 
who were perfectly willing to be dismissed as "the sentimental 
class" by the so-called realists of American politics because 
it was just the "reality" of Manifest Destiny and the margin 
of profit they questioned. 

Although he was fairly overwhelmed by his colleagues, 
Garrison sensed that they were the prophets of a new age, 
critical of their society but strong in their belief that they 
could redeem it. Some of them saw the cure in the regenera- 
tion of the individual; others dreamed of a new life in a 
Fourierist phalanstery or a New Harmony. All were agreed 
that there was much that was wrong with America. Garrison 
still believed that slavery was the evil and Christ the cure; 
but whether the millennium would be built by men or come 
by divine dispensation he no longer knew. 

"No Union with Slaveholders" 

ON AN AUGUST DAY in 1841 two carriages rolled slowly 
through Franconia Notch in the White Mountains. 
In the first chaise rode two New Hampshire abolitionists, 
Thomas Beach and Ezekiel Rogers, deep in conversation, 
and behind them came Garrison and Nathaniel Rogers, his 
new friend and headstrong colleague, singing hymns at the 
top of their voices. All four were on their way to an anti- 
slavery meeting. Suddenly Garrison noticed a cloud of smoke 
coming from the carriage ahead it seemed to be rising from 
beneath friend Ezekiel's beaver hat. He stared. Could It be 
tobacco smoke? Had Ezekiel become a chimney flue? He 
called to him and remarked the incongruity of an abolitionist's 
profaning his mouth with the stupefying weed. Might as 
well make it a rum-duct! "We had halted at the Iron Works 
tavern to refresh our horses," Nathaniel remembered, "and 
while they were eating, walked to view the Furnace. As we 
crossed the little bridge, friend Rogers took out another 
cigar, as if to light it when we should reach the fire. Is it 
any malady you have got, brother Rogers,' said we to him, 
'that you smoke that thing, or is it habit and indulgence 
merely?' 'It is nothing but habit/ said he gravely; 'or, I would 
say it 'was nothing eke,' and he significantly cast the little 
roll over the railing into the Ammonoosuck. 'A revolution!' 


exclaimed Garrison, 'a glorious revolution without noise or 
smoke/ and he swung his hat cheerily about his head." 1 

The schism of 1840, another revolution without casualties, 
opened a decade of confused politics both within the anti- 
slavery movement and in the country at large. The annexation 
of Texas planted the slavery issue in Congress, where it 
grew like a virus for fifteen years, draining off the energies 
of legislators and paralyzing the business of government. With 
the enormous new area seized from Mexico, the United States 
acquired the problem abstract and hypothetical as it may 
have seemed at first of the status of slavery there. The 
dragons' teeth of a future civil war were strewn over the 
rocky plateaus of Mexico by Winfield Scott and Zachary 
Taylor, each too busy countering the political ambitions of 
the other to foresee the results of their conquest. 

The decade opened at home with the death of the new 
President and the strange sight of a Virginian of only nominal 
Whig loyalties in the White House. Four years later the 
Whigs again looked on in dismay as Birney's Liberty Party 
stole enough of Clay's New York votes to throw the state 
and the election to Polk. Then it was the turn of the Demo- 
crats when David Wilmot drove a sectional wedge into the 
party by attempting to ban slavery from the new territory. 
In 1848 political disorder reached its climax, and the country 
witnessed the spectacle of Conscience against Cotton, Hunker 
against Barnburner, Free Soil against Manifest Destiny. It 
was a period of broken alliances as parties scrambled to 
adjust to the reality of the slavery question and new men be- 
gan following new sectional directives. No matter where they 
began in Charleston or Boston, in cotton plantation or 
cotton mill these sectional lines of force led straight to 
Washington, the new center of agitation over slavery. 

It was also a period of reorganization and retrenchment 


for abolitionists, who belatedly recognized the institutional 
breakdown which the schism had caused. Once a year, until 
they tired of the farce, Garrison and his followers made the 
trek to New York for the annual meeting of the American 
Anti-Slavery Society, listened to three days of speeches, 
each more radical than the last, and returned to Boston. Nor 
was the secessionist American and Foreign Anti-Slavery 
Society the "soulless new organization," as the Garrison- 
ians continued to call it any more representative of aboli- 
tionist sentiment in the North. Weld disowned it, and despite 
the exertions of Lewis Tappan, many of its supporters soon 
drifted into the Liberty Party camp. Yet the Liberty Party 
vote in 1 844 totaled only sixty-two thousand, a gain of eight 
hundred per cent over four years but hardly an index of 
Northern views on the expansion of slavery. Three conclu- 
sions appeared inescapable: the national organization was 
dead, the careers of many of the pioneers were at an end, 
and the anti-slavery impulse had broadened. In 1846, at the 
outbreak of the war with Mexico, abolitionists were amazed 
to discover that the North, and particularly New England, 
had developed an anti-slavery conscience. No one could 
quite explain the phenomenon. 

Confusion reigned in the Garrison household, as though 
completing its mastery over moral reform by disrupting the 
affairs of its leader. Babies arrived regularly Charles Follen 
Garrison in 1842; Fanny, her father's favorite, named for 
his mother, in 1844; Elizabeth Pease two years later; and 
Francis Jackson in 1 848 five boys and two girls. The baby 
Elizabeth lived only two years, and Charles died at the age 
of seven, scalded by a steam bath, a victim of his father's 
faith in medical quackery. His children found him a happy 
and surprisingly indulgent parent, given to pranks, boisterous 
games, and family outings. He worried a good deal about his 


health and suffered from all manner of ailments, real or 
imaginary, aching joints, gastric complications, heart palpita- 
tions, recurrent headaches. Not a year passed that he did not 
add to this list of infirmities, as though his body protested 
his puritanical principles. He bore cheerfully his friends' 
jokes at his hypochondria while waiting patiently for another 
doctor to consult and another diagnosis to consider. Once 
Phillips and Quincy prevailed upon him to see Dr. John War- 
ren about a swelling in his chest (he called it his "devil"), but 
Warren found nothing wrong with him. Mostly he preferred 
the various services of itinerant quacks, country bone-setters, 
faith-healers and animal magnetists, homeopaths and hydro- 
paths. Nothing pleased him more than a disagreement in 
diagnosis. "Who shall decide," he chuckled, "when doctors 
disagree?" When Warren and then Bowditch pronounced 
him sound, he started the rounds of "clairvoyants," as Quincy 
irreverently called them, "who examined his internals with 
the back of their heads." "The ocular, or occipital, evidence 
of these last worthies," Quincy added dryly, "is the most 
satisfactory to his mind. To most men, the circumstance 
that they gave diametrically opposite accounts of the case 
would be startling, but then G. believes them both equally, 
which arranges the affair satisfactorily." 2 The family medicine 
shelf held everything from Buchan's Hungarian Balsam of 
Life to Dr. Church's Pectoral Pills. Once Garrison took a 
dose of the same Dr. Church's Anti-Scrofulous Panacea and 
exclaimed that he felt it permeating the whole system. "Per- 
meating the system!" Dr. Weston snorted. "Why, it was 
the first time he had taken a glass of grog, and he didn't know 
how good it was." 

For years die family drifted from one home to another. 
Wherever they were, their home was an anti-slavery hotel 
with a housekeeper, an occasional neighbor, and two or 


three visiting friends of universal reform who had heard of 
Garrison's love of conversation and his wife's table* The 
Boston clique saw to it that he did not lack for necessities* 
"I see you have a houseful of people," Charles Hovey wrote 
to Helen in sending her a barrel of flour. "Your husband's 
position brings him many guests and expenses which do not 
belong to him/' God continued to provide but in small 
amounts. "I am never so far in funds as to have a spare dollar 
by me, using what economy I can," Garrison complained. His 
financial dependence on well-to-do friends, however, entailed 
no loss of self-esteem. 

In 1842 James Garrison died. Lloyd improved the occasion 
of the funeral by delivering a lecture on the evils of war and 
alcohol. Though he spoke of his brother's fortitude and 
resignation, he scarcely understood the tragedy of James's 
struggle. James had escaped his mother's domination by run- 
ning away and turning to drink; Lloyd, while he never had to 
escape, had transferred his resistance to maternal authority 
into a hatred of society and a compulsion to tear it down. 
Before he died James might have seen that his brother's 
search for sainthood and obsession with purity, his anxiety 
and hostility, were somehow related to the image of the 
mother they both professed to have cherished. But Lloyd 
was bent on saving him and had convinced him of his "evil 
qualities." His death brought Garrison no closer to a self- 
confrontation than questioning whether James died "recon- 
ciled to God." 

Garrison was away from home more than ever now that 
he had joined the anti-slavery lecturers in the field One re- 
sult of the schism of 1840 and the rise of the Liberty Party 
was the need for fence-mending in New England and western 
New York. Leaving his paper in the hands of Johnson and 
Quincy, he took to the circuit with PhilKps, Remond and 



Frederick Douglass, younger and hardier lecturers whose 
hectic pace wore him down. Douglass he discovered at a 
New Bedford meeting and developed him into one of his 
most successful lecturers until the young man proved too 
headstrong to be harnessed. Douglass's strength on the plat- 
form lay in his dignity and lofty tone. Remond was witty 
and quick with repartee, high-spirited and fractious. Phillips 
possessed the power of improvisation, a theatrical suppleness 
and urbanity that made him the greatest of the anti-slavery 
orators. Garrison lacked all of these qualities. His forte was 
earnestness, and his best audiences were usually Quakers. 
"Garrison just suited them," Sydney Gay remarked to Ed- 
mund Quincy of one of Garrison's appearances in Phila- 
delphia. "His soberness, his solemnity, his earnestness his 
evident deep religious feeling his simplicity all these were 
just what the Quakers love, & they gathered about him as 
their fathers did about Fox, & said yea! verily! he is a 
prophet! " 3 

He was known now as one of the "old men" in the move- 
ment, though only in his late thirties, and was in constant 
demand as a speaker. He spent most of the year 1841 travel- 
ing in New England and attending local conventions in the 
attempt to strike the spark of organization again. In the fall 
of 1842, together with Douglass, Abby Kelley and Charles 
Remond, he toured western New York with the hope of 
bringing some of the wayward politicians back into the fold. 
Though the invasion failed and there were almost no con- 
verts, his "menagerie" performed well under adverse condi- 
tions. His greatest difficulty was persuading Douglass and 
Remond, neither of them particularly concerned with the 
rigors of a schedule, to keep their appointments. At Syracuse, 
Garrison reported, "the tumult was tremendous" following an 
ill-chosen comparison of the Methodist Episcopal Church to 


a New York brothel. "Rotten eggs were now thrown, one 
of which was sent as a special present to me, and struck the 
wall over my head, scattering its contents on me and others." 4 
Benches were hurled and windows smashed to the tune of 
hisses and curses before the meeting was hastily adjourned. 
He told his wife he still believed that "genuine anti-slavery" 
would gain a foothold there, but his opinion was not shared 
by his colleagues who realized that, adapted to the rocky soil 
of New England, Garrisonism was not destined to flourish on 
the banks of the Genesee. 

While its editor canvassed the countryside the Liberator 
languished. Lydia and David Child's National Anti-Slavery 
Standard, though Garrison disapproved its Whig bias, was 
ably conducted and for the moment self-sustaining, while his 
own paper stood in need of editorial as well as financial re- 
pair. The truth was that it was badly edited and frequently 
uninteresting. In the first place, the layout was eccentric. 
Articles were thrown in "higgledy-piggledy," readers corn- 
plained. No single issue was complete, matters were too often 
left at loose ends with the promise of "more anon" or "more 
next week" when "next week" never came. Then there were 
not enough carefully written editorials, too many off-the- 
cuff commentaries and too few well-chosen articles. In an 
election week why was there no comment on the political 
situation? Why the time-lag between news stories on page 
one and editorials on page three? Quincy remonstrated with 
him and warned that unless he corrected his careless habits 
the Liberator would have to be discontinued. "Now we know 
that you have talent enough and to spare to write editorials, 
such as no other editor can; that you have the most ample 
materials for the best of selections, and eminent tact and 
sagacity for judging what is timely; and, moreover, that you 
have abundance of time for doing all this, if you would but 


have a little method in your madness." All that was lacking, 
Quincy explained, was industry and application. 5 Quincy 
asked the impossible: as the years went by, the Liberator 
grew more and more personal, disorganized, and erratic as 
its editor lost the fiery zeal of his youth. 

The disruptive forces within the anti-slavery movement 
after 1840 were several, but most important, perhaps, was a 
sudden awareness among abolitionists of the complexity of 
social evils and their growing reluctance to isolate slavery as 
the universal wrong. They saw that poverty and suffering 
were not heaven-directed but man-made, and they began to 
consider solutions that fell short of a regeneration of the hu- 
man race. In short, they discovered social planning. A dra- 
matic example of the discovery of Utopian planning was the 
career of John A. Collins, General Agent of the Massachu- 
setts Society and Garrisonian knight-errant. Collins joined 
the anti-slavery movement as a young theological student at 
Andover, where he proved his usefulness by uncovering the 
"clerical plot" against Garrison. His rise thereafter was me- 
teoric, and in 1840 he was selected to undertake the delicate 
mission to England for funds to bail out the American Anti- 
Slavery Society. His expedition, perhaps the most inglorious 
of all abolitionist appeals to British philanthropy, ended in 
failure, and he had to borrow the passage money back to 
Boston. But his visit was the beginning of his education in the 
problems of industrial civilization. The horrors of Liverpool 
slums and brutal working conditions in the Midlands con- 
vinced him that the English suffered from "the same prejudice 
against poverty, that we do against color." 6 The English 
themselves were guilty of "a vast and complicated system" 
of slavery, a form as dangerous as it was subtle, which gave 
to the poor subject the appearance of freedom the more 
successfully to grind him to powder. Laissezfaire, he con- 


eluded, had created a nation of drones virtually slaves though 
technically free. Neither Corn Law nor Chartism held the 
answer to the dislocations caused by industrialism; nothing 
would suffice "until the entire social structure, from which 
the state is but an emanation, is completely changed." 

Collins left England a convert of Robert Owen, and al- 
though he took up his abolitionist duty on his return, his 
heart was no longer in it. It seemed to him now that slavery 
was only a small part of the vast question of social reorgan- 
ization. In 1843 he formed the Society of Universal Inquiry 
and Reform on the premise that competition was a failure 
and that the future of America lay in self-sustaining com- 
munities of three hundred families happily free from the 
curse of acquisitiveness. Soon thereafter his society bought 
three hundred acres outside Skaneateles, New York, and 
began working the land on the principle of "Unity in Love," 
Garrison, though interested in the scheme, was sure that 
Collins's underlying moral philosophy had been disproved by 
"myriads of facts, drawn from a world lying in iniquity," 
and predicted that the experiment would prove "the baseless 
fabric of a benevolent dream." 7 He admitted that Collins was 
both earnest and dedicated, but rejected his ideas as "deceit- 

Another experiment, more interesting and closer to home, 
was Hopedale, founded at Milford, Massachusetts, by a fel- 
low abolitionist and nonresistant Adin Ballou. Ballou was 
descended from a long line of nonconformists, and he had 
already been ousted from his Universalist pulpit for heresy 
when he transformed the Jones Farm in Milford into Fra- 
ternal Order Number One. At Hopedale each member agreed 
to work eight hours a day for fifty cents and to give the 
community one dollar a week for room and board. This 
arrangement, Ballou explained, was "to facilitate the honest 


acquisition of individual property for laudable purposes." 
Thus, though it aimed at restoring pure Christianity, Hope- 
dale was not communist. Like Garrison, Ballou was inter- 
ested in every reform of his age peace, woman's rights, 
temperance, and anti-slavery. He built a Thornpsonian water 
spa on the premises where ailing members could try cures of 
hot herbs and vapor baths. The community presented lectures 
on phrenology and mesmerism and seances with spiritualists. 
Liquor and tobacco were forbidden at Hopedale, tea and 
coffee discouraged, and the dietary schemes of Sylvester 
Graham and Catherine Beecher much applauded. Ballou's 
newspaper, the Practical Christian (a title borrowed from 
Garrison), kept the gentile world abreast of activities in the 
community. Its motto "Absolute Truth, Essential Right- 
eousness, Individual Responsibility, Social Reorganization, 
Human Progress, Ultimate Perfection" offered something 
for everybody. 8 Members of Hopedale may have been reach- 
ing for the millennium, but they were also, in Ballou's estima- 
tion, "plain practical people . . . very much like the middle 
class of New Englanders generally," conscientious, earnest, 
imperfect. Not so imperfect, however, as to be incapable of 
substituting "Religious Consecration" for "Fragmentary, 
Spasmodic Piety." 

It was just Ballou's promise of practical righteousness which 
Garrison doubted the power of any cooperative scheme to 
achieve. That there were evils in society "too dreadful to be 
contemplated by any human heart" he would not deny; but 
that they sprang from external causes rather than "the evil 
propensities of mankind" he could not agree. Ultimately the 
regeneration of society reduced itself to a question of the indi- 
vidual and his God. "Outward circumstances do indeed fre- 
quently and extensively exert a disastrous influence on the 
feelings and actions of the people; but the creator or cause 


of these circumstances have not been either Nature or a bene- 
ficial Creator, but 'an evil heart of unbelief in man an un- 
willingness to perform right actions --an almost universal 
disposition to reject 'the golden rule' as an unsafe rule of 
action a disregard of the laws of being a contempt for the 
commands, and a distrust in the promises of God." 9 Bad laws, 
hunger, poverty, and destitution, he knew, were the evil 
fruits of the corrupt tree of man. 

Then his brother-in-law George Benson decided to lay his 
axe to the roots of the tree. In 1841 he sold the family farm 
in Brooklyn and began a study of "the great subject of social 
organization." "Where do you settle?" Garrison joked. 
"What say you to a little community among ourselves?" 10 
Benson replied by founding within the year the Northampton 
Association of Education and Industry. The Association was 
divided into two separate enterprises an industrial com- 
munity of one hundred and twenty-five members and a stock 
company of investors. Members of the community received 
eighty cents a week for board, fuel, light and rent, and twenty 
dollars a year for clothing. If their expenses exceeded this 
amount, they were deducted from their share in the profits 
from the brick factory and shingle mill. Benson's community 
lasted four years, slightly longer than the Skaneateles experi- 

Garrison spoke with pride of his brother-in-law and his 
friends as "among the freest and best spirits of the age," and 
he was a frequent visitor at the community. Yet he clung 
to the belief that permanent changes in society originate 
"within the individual and work outwards." It was Christ's 
example that made better citizens. The trouble with com- 
munity schemes Bronson Alcott's as well as Robert Owen's 
was that they ignored this simple truth. "The chief ob- 
stacles to the success of these communities or associations will 


lie in the breasts of their members, and not in the present 
state of society/' 11 His old Federalist conservatism led him to 
reject as "radically defective" any plan involving new prop- 
erty relationships. Inequality of wealth he dismissed as simply 
an "outward symptom" of an "inward disease," and he in- 
sisted only religion could bring down the lofty and exalt the 
depressed. "Every axiom of political economy that is not 
based upon a law of God is, at best, but a cunning falsehood 
or a plausible artifice. To attempt, therefore, to secure prop- 
erty to a nation in any other manner than by seeking the 
intellectual and moral improvement of the people in one 
word, by christianizing them, is something worse than a 
blunder. It is to suspend the laws of the material world, and 
expect that grapes may be gathered from thorns, and figs 
from thistles. It is to unhinge the moral government of the 
universe, and suppose that a great improvement can be made 
upon the original plan." 12 Peace to the ghost of Federalism 
and a sigh for the days when saving religion and sound poli- 
tics linked arms! 

Garrison had even less sympathy with the religious mania 
sweeping New England after 1 840 the millenarian fantasy 
of Father Miller. Miller's pre-millennial advent, first scheduled 
for 1843 and then for October 22, 1844, won a number of 
converts in Boston, notably Joshua Himes, pastor of the 
Chardon Street Chapel, and Charles Fitch, once a member of 
the "clerical conspiracy." In Himes, Miller found a revival 
promoter without peer who helped spread his doctrines 
throughout New England and western New York. Miller's 
notions, like the Christian communism of the Utopians, were 
implicit in perfectionism; but instead of making their heaven 
on earth the Millerites were content to accept it from the 
hand of God. Agreeing that Miller and Himes were "good 
men" favorably inclined toward reform. Garrison neverthe- 


less dismissed their ideas as absurd. "As the French Revolu- 
tion was the legitimate product of the false religion of France, 
to whom all its excesses and horrors are to be attributed, so 
is the present 'Miller mania' to be traced to the false teach- 
ings of a dumb and blind priesthood, and an apostate church, 
for centuries." 13 The fallacy in Miller's reasoning, Garrison 
held, was not his doctrine of a second coming but his un- 
warranted assumption that it lay in the future. As a disciple 
of John Humphrey Noyes, Garrison believed that Christ had 
returned eighteen hundred years ago. Jesus had told Paul 
that "this generation shall not pass until these things are ful- 
filled," and had returned about the year 60 A.D. after the 
apostles had prepared for His coming. His return spelled the 
end of the apostolic ministry with its church, and His new 
dispensation set men wholly free to follow Him. This was 
the "correct" view of the advent against which Miller set his 
"novel and preposterous" explanation. 14 Man's salvation thus 
lay in a return to the simple Christianity of the disciples. Here 
in the dim recesses of the first century the mistake had been 
made, the sin of disobedience committed. To make a better 
world, to free the slave, abolish inequality, banish suffering, 
people would have to recognize their errors and return to the 
point where they went wrong. Innocence had somehow been 
lost, but not forever by destroying wicked institutions and 
corrupt laws men could recapture it. Their future lay buried 
deep in their past, their salvation in an eternal return. The 
way to Garrison's Utopia led through the doors of time and 
memory and down the path of the original garden. 

His views on the Bible were changing more rapidly than 
he admitted. His critics still called him an "unbeliever" and "a 
total stranger to the spirit of Christ," but he insisted that the 
Scriptures were his "text-book" and worth all the other books 
in the world. The text required no analysis, however, for he 


was convinced that Christianity was neither argumentative 
nor metaphysical but dealt with self-evident truths and spoke 
an authoritative language. Theologians and preachers were 
too concerned with metaphysics and legal niceties, and neg- 
lected the plain, simple, soul-stirring message of the gospel. 
Besides, the art of Scriptural quotation was known to the 
devil. A hireling clergy quoted Paul who advised servants 
to obey their masters, ordered women to keep silence in the 
churches, and recommended a little wine for thy stomach's 
sake. Garrison made a note to avoid Scriptural arguments 
from now on, to teach "vital godliness" in place of "sectarian 
theology." He would show an unbelieving world that the 
true church was simply the fellowship of believers and that 
ecclesiastical bodies were only cages of unclean birds and 
stables of pollution. "Has God made it obligatory upon us, 
(and we believe he has,) to have no fellowship with iniquity, 
and yet at the same time does he require us to sustain that 
which is in fellowship with all iniquity?" 15 Clearly not! The 
true Christian had no choice but to denounce evildoers and to 
come out from among them. 

Like all of the religious persuasions of the day, Garrison's 
definition went by a name. "Come-Outerism," so called be- 
cause its believers preached "coming out" of corrupt churches, 
was as old as Christianity. The idea of secession in the name 
of a rigorous piety had governed the Donatists in the fourth 
century, the Albigensians in the eleventh, the Anabaptists in 
the sixteenth, and the New-Lights in the eighteenth. Logi- 
cally, the command to come out from iniquity was a part of 
perfectionism it completed it. A man who has achieved 
perfection in this world risks losing it if he continues to hold 
communion with the unsanctified. He must leave the un- 
enlightened and their church or give up his status as a saint. 
There were two main types of Gome-Outers in America be- 


fore the Civil War: those who simply tested the churches by 
anti-slavery standards and, finding them wanting, departed; 
and the "genuine infidels," as Garrison called them, who re- 
jected the whole institution of church and clergy. The differ- 
ence between the two types was only one of degree, since 
most of the more radical Gome-Outers were violently anti- 
slavery. New England Come-Outerism seems to have origi- 
nated among pietists on Cape Cod, but with the Second Great 
Awakening it spread rapidly. The Gome-Outers were Chris- 
tian anarchists who were often unable to agree on anything 
besides their duty to leave a particular church. Perfectionists 
on the march, they strode out of their churches on to the 
farthest reaches of Christian piety and, in the case of Garri- 
son's friends, to the brink of insanity. 

Garrison saw the Gome-Outers as the harbingers of a sec- 
ond Reformation, prophets destined to do for Protestantism 
what Luther did to the Catholic Church. He particularly ad- 
mired them for their self-reliance. They recognized no man 
as apostle, prophet, presbyter, elder or deacon; they observed 
no church form and were amenable to no tribunal; they were 
bound by no creed, and they recorded their testimony against 
all existing religions as destitute of the primitive gifts and 
guilty of imposture. Surely the future of Christianity lay with 
such free spirits as these who sought to atone for sinful men 
by defying them. In the years after 1840 Come-Outerism 
infiltrated his anti-slavery movement and transformed it into 
a secessionist crusade. 

The chief prophet of Come-Outerism was Garrison's new 
friend Nathaniel Rogers. "We have a very humble but very 
faithful little squad of abolitionists in this place & in our state," 
Rogers wrote to a friend in 1842. "They are at this moment 
a little more radical, than the leading influences that surround 
Garrison." 16 As editor of the militant Herald of Freedom and 


the leader of ultraism in New Hampshire, Rogers was in a 
position to know. A graduate of Dartmouth and a successful 
lawyer, he had abandoned a lucrative practice to organize 
anti-slavery in the state. After witnessing the affair of the 
"clerical appeal" he became convinced of the guilt of the 
clergy and accepted perfectionism without reservation. His 
obsession with consistency disturbed the Boston clique, whose 
urbanity and sophistication he distrusted. "I wish we could 
let politics entirely alone," he told those friends who thought 
his views too severe. "Parties cant seem to handle principles. 
They dont know how." Rogers felt that organizations of any 
kind inevitably abused power, that even small groups simply 
found it impossible to do right. He reasoned that only by 
rejecting power and refusing even to recognize its symbols 
could the righteous man escape its demonic clutches. Accord- 
ingly, he urged that anti-slavery meetings be conducted with- 
out officers, notes, rules of order, or parliamentary procedure. 
He favored a return to the Quaker idea of "the sense of the 
meeting," and chided Garrison for his failure to avoid all the 
pitfalls of politics. "Garrison holds politics a mortal sin yet 
he fills his paper with the doings of politicians, & censures 
them for not turning their politics to better account. And he 
holds to embodying the anti-slavery movement in real po- 
litical form with all the formalities of parliament or Con- 
gress." For Rogers, moral suasion meant "mere speech." "Tell 
the truth. Let everybody tell it & in their own way. And 
if they transcend propriety tell them so & if they wont 
conform, let them go unconformed. That's my sort of moral 
suasion. Any thing short of it is mxr." Rogers reached the 
peak of disorganization when he discovered the immorality of 
treasuries and budgets and suggested that henceforth anti- 
slavery lecturers support themselves like Buddhist monks with 
begging bowl. 


In Stephen Symonds Foster and Parker Pillsbury, Rogers 
found two disciples worthy of his mettle. Foster was un- 
doubtedly the most aggressive and humorless reformer ever 
to grace the anti-slavery stage. He was born in New Hamp- 
shire in 1809, th e ninth of thirteen children of a dirt-poor 
farmer. He put himself through Dartmouth, and as a student 
there was jailed for refusing to perform militia service. Hauled 
off to the town lock-up, he sat down and wrote a blistering 
letter to the authorities complaining of the vermin and the 
filth and was rewarded by seeing the warden dismissed. This 
was the approach to reform which he employed with varying 
success for the next twenty years. After finishing his course 
at Union Seminary in New York, he held a Congregational 
pulpit until 1839, when he left the church in disgust and 
joined the Garrisonians. He was a born trouble-shooter, a 
crank, and a monomaniac on the subject of free speech. "I 
could wish that bro. Foster would exercise more judgment 
and discretion in the presentation of his views," Garrison 
complained after Foster's epithets had touched off a near riot 
in Syracuse, "but it is useless to reason with him, with any 
hope of altering his course, as he is firmly persuaded that he 
is pursuing the very best course." 17 The best course for Fos- 
ter was the course of greatest resistance. His favorite mode 
of operation was to stride into a church on a Sunday morning 
and plant himself in the front pew. He would wait until time 
for the sermon and then rise and ask in a resonant tone to be 
heard in the name of three millions of suffering humanity. 
Usually he was tossed out. Once in Portland, Maine, he landed 
in the street and broke his collarbone. In Concord he was 
kicked down the aisle out into the street and beaten. The next 
day he appeared in court, bandaged but unrepentant, to re- 
fuse to answer to charges of disturbing the peace. He did 
admit to disturbing the uneasy peace of the American church, 


however, and believed that the ends justified any means. Sup- 
pose a church were on fire, he asked, would he then be right 
in interrupting the service to tell the congregation? What 
then if the whole nation were on fire? ... At this point his 
lecture frequently ended in violence. If not, then he pro- 
ceeded to single out the minister for comparison with a re- 
cently executed criminal or liken his congregation to the 
patrons of the local house of ill fame. In 1843 he collected 
some of these pungent observations in a seventy-two-page 
pamphlet entitled The Brotherhood of Thieves: or, a True 
Picture of the American Church and Clergy. The title was 
the least offensive statement in the book. 

Foster finally discovered a kindred spirit in Abby Kelley 
and married her in 1845. Until then his partner in disorder 
was Parker Pillsbury, another master of the art of conversion 
by attrition. Pillsbury was a native of Massachusetts who 
had left the Congregational Church and gravitated into 
Rogers's orbit in New Hampshire. He was gentler and more 
intelligent than his traveling companion, but he too delighted 
in setting the pulpit "into a pretty considerable kind of a 
fix." Together Pillsbury and Foster took the new gospel of 
Gome-Outer abolitionism into every roadside village in New 
Hampshire and then ventured farther afield into Massachu- 
setts and Connecticut. "Our influence is fast becoming a 
source of terror to the pro-slavery pulpit if not to the pro- 
slavery parties," they reported gleefully to Garrison, "and 
no pains are spared by men in high places to brand our most 
active and devoted friends as 'heretics/ "infidels/ and 'dis- 
honest men.' " 1S 

No one in the Boston circle thought Foster and Pillsbury 
worse than mountebanks. Ellis Gray Loring, before he left 
the Garrisonians in despair, wanted it clearly understood that 
he did not discuss anti-slavery in Foster's language. Phillips, 


who could employ the barbed word to advantage, thought 
both were needlessly aggressive. So did Quincy and Francis 
Jackson. Even Garrison agreed that Foster, at least, was "mor- 
bidly combative." The Gome-Outers made common cause 
with the older radicals like Henry Wright and Abby Kelley, 
and forming a nucleus of radical pacificism, they began to 
challenge the hegemony of the Bostonians. At the New Eng- 
land Convention in 1841 they fought Garrison's resolution, 
which simply spoke of the clergy as "wickedly preeminent," 
and substituted one of their own, calling it a "BROTHERHOOD 
OF THIEVES." Later that same year they recommended that 
abolitionists defeat Jim Crow regulations on the railroads by 
taking seats reserved for Negroes. This resolution, introduced 
at a quarterly meeting, was finally defeated through the ef- 
forts of the Boston clique, but for a while feelings ran high. 
Garrison himself warned of the danger of abolitionists be- 
coming "invidious and censorious toward each other, in conse- 
quence of making constitutional peculiarities virtuous or 
vicious traits." 19 Word spread among the Gome-Outers that 
Garrison was growing "cautious" and "conservative." For 
fifteen years there had been no enemies to the Left, but now 
his comfortable position on the lunatic fringe of American 
politics was threatened by a handful of fanatics chasing the 
illusion of purity. 

It was not true that Garrison had grown cautious or modi- 
fied his demand of the South. The years just before the Mexi- 
can War saw the rise within his organization of a new radical- 
ism powered by the secessionist energy of Come-Outerism. 
Like many men with neither great intelligence nor deep feel- 
ings, Garrison was extraordinarily sensitive to the opinions 
of others. He realized that the New Hampshire triumvirate 
was simply putting his perfectionism into practice and that 
Come-Outerism was symptomatic of the gradual dispersion 


of abolitionist strength. Institutional anti-slavery was break- 
ing up, a process which Phillips identified when he pointed 
out that u the organization may have met with some check 
but the enterprise is taking stronger & stronger hold of the 
public." 20 From now on Garrison concerned himself with the 
anti-slavery enterprise. The best way of spreading the gospel 
now appeared to be the spontaneous local meeting where 
itinerant anti-slavery lecturers like Foster and PUlsbury per- 
formed in their best Old Testament manner. These meetings 
were inexpensive and easily arranged; the agents were gener- 
ally satisfied with their meager earnings and content that they 
should be "thoroughly understood," as Foster explained, "by 
the people to whom alone we now look for support." This 
meant going to the people with a moral argument, democra- 
tizing anti-slavery and simplifying it even to the point of 
distortion. The other alternative after 1840 was political 
action which carried the risk of all movements dependent 
on votes. Political action meant the Liberty Party, and Garri- 
son expressed his opinion of that when he asked how many 
votes Jesus of Nazareth cast into the ballot box. The logic 
was shocking but his point was unmistakable. 

Much of his opposition to the Liberty Party was the prod- 
uct of his smoldering hatred for Birney, Leavitt and the other 
"apostates" who had walked out of the old society in 1840 
taking the Emancipator with them. He never forgave them 
this "swindle." When Birney agreed to head the Liberty 
Party, Garrison continued to plague him with charges of 
being Leavitt's "dupe," a man without "mercenary motives," 
but obviously "not to be relied on in cases of strong tempta- 
tion." He accused Birney's followers of being "vandal ene- 
mies" who had abandoned true abolition out of "miserable 
jealousy" of its leaders. The object of the Liberty Party, he 
implied more than once, was not the abolition of slavery but 


the overthrow of William Lloyd Garrison. It was an organ- 
ization "conceived in sin/' "utterly unprincipled," and there- 
fore "the most dangerous foe with which genuine anti-slavery 
has to contend." Periodically he ran down the list of "defec- 
tors" in an editorial, asking the whereabouts of each of them. 
Where was James Birney? "In Western 'retiracy,' waiting 
to be elected President of the United States, that he may have 
the opportunity to do something for the abolition of slavery!" 
What was Henry Stanton doing now? "Studying law (which 
crushes humanity and is hostile to the gospel of Christ)." 
What about Elizur Wright? Where was he? Selling a trans- 
lation of French fables he had made. And Whittier and his 
friends all lost to the cause, all bewitched by the sorcery 
of political action. 21 

Lamentations like these were pure hokum and the Liberty 
Party men did not hesitate to brand them as such and to 
make a few accusations of their own. Garrison, they retorted, 
had arrived at a "sublime abstractionism" and was so busy 
with keeping his own skirts clear that he ignored the slave. 
Suppose all the opponents of slavery were William Lloyd 
Garrisons who would stop the slavocrats from exercising 
complete dominion over the whole country? 22 More aboli- 
tionists each year were apparently reaching similar conclu- 
sions, for each year the Liberty Party won more votes until, 
in 1844, Birney received over sixty-two thousand. In the 
Massachusetts gubernatorial election of the previous year 
Samuel Sewall, Garrison's old friend but now a "defector" to 
the Liberty Party, received sixty-five hundred votes, while 
only one hundred and eight abolitionists followed Garrison's 
instructions to "scatter" thek votes. At times like these Garri- 
son changed his tone and openly admitted that there was a 
"considerable increase" in libery Party strength. "We have 
never opposed the formation of a third party as a measure 


inherently wrong," he wrote as though to put a new face 
on his opposition, "but have always contended that the aboli- 
tionists have as clear and indisputable right to band them- 
selves together as those who call themselves whigs or demo- 
crats." 23 It was simply that political action was inexpedient 
at this time; an anti-slavery party was premature; there was 
still too much "preliminary toil" to be performed. 24 Such 
statements fooled no one, least of all the Liberty Party. 

He came closer to his real objection to the Liberty Party 
when he referred to the "partial nature" of its goals and its 
concern with the economic and political rather than the moral 
aspects of slavery. "Its impolicy in a pecuniary point of view 
is dwelt upon far more glowingly than its impiety and im- 
morality." Appeals were made to the pocketbook, not to the 
conscience, "to the love of political preferment, rather than 
the duty of Christian reformation." 25 Defenders of the Lib- 
erty Party found this reasoning incomprehensible. What use 
was moral suasion, they asked, without good works? "With- 
out these, we may talk fluently and loudly, may argue and 
conclude, may exhort, entreat, rebuke; but nothing of moral 
suasion can we employ." 26 Principles without the votes to 
make them stick seemed to the Liberty men of no use what- 

Not votes but "vindicating the principles of eternal justice" 
interested Garrison. He was sure that abolitionists could 
never improve on the "apostolic mode" of changing corrupt 
institutions, that is, by "the foolishness of preaching." "Hoiv 
shall the people be brought to repentance?' 9 this was the 
question, and the answer "Moral suasion ... is the mode 
appointed by God to conquer error, and destroy the works 
of darkness." 27 His language betrayed his old concern with 
purity. It was not a matter of laws to be passed or steps to be 
taken, but of error to be rooted out and repentance to be 


exacted. Again, it was not simply the freedom of the Negro 
he sought. He wanted to bring America to its knees, penitent 
in sackcloth and ashes, to help it escape sin and death by 
destroying evil. 

This dream of escape was the source of his interest in all 
the other reforms and fads of the Forties utopianism, per- 
fectionism, phrenology, Graham bread, water cures, and 
spiritualism. All of these movements offered a form of escape: 
utopianism from the injustices of a competitive economy; 
perfectionism from the domination of the Church; Graham- 
ism from ill-health and neuroses; phrenology and mesmerism 
from individual responsibility; spiritualism from the finality 
of death. Garrison was involved with all of these movements 
in the course of his life but with none more completely than 
abolitionism. He was possessed by the image of the shackled 
slave because it cried out for Armageddon. An endless fasci- 
nation with upheaval was the one constant of his life, the 
polestar in the murky rhetoric of his editorials. It explained 
the vocabulary of violence, the endless references to "revolu- 
tion," "chaos," "blood," and "overthrow." His hatred of 
institutions lay deeper than his evangelical bias, deeper even 
than his aversion to slavery. For him hostility to the estab- 
lished order and the authority it wielded was a fundamental 
need. It was of no consequence, he reasoned, that the anti- 
slavery pioneers had not envisioned an assault on existing 
institutions. They never knew the power of entrenched 
wickedness. On the other hand, he had decided to examine 
anti-slavery hostility in every institution in the country 
"and if it can be shown that this hostility springs naturally 
from the despotic assumptions of such institutions, I do not 
see why abolitionists may not assault the institution itself, as 
well as its pro-slavery influence lay the axe at the root of 
the tree, as well as cry out against its fruit." 28 The institution 


he now marked for destruction was the American Union. 

It was the radicals who first explained to Garrison the con- 
nection between Come-Outerism and anti-slavery. "One of 
two things must be done," Abby Kelley wrote to him in 
1843, " either the American Society and the Mass. Society 
must stand on the 'come-outer' ground or I must, as an indi- 
vidual, detach myself from them I must clean my hands 
from the blood of the slave that is spilt by support of slavery 
in church and in state." 29 By 1843 Garrison was well down 
the road to disunion himself, having seen and accepted the 
duty which Come-Outerism placed on him. As early as 
November, 1841, at the height of the petition debate in Con- 
gress, he addressed an open letter to the "desperadoes" of the 
South informing them that they might leave the Union when- 
ever they chose. "They ought not to be allowed seats in 
Congress," he decided. "No political, no religious co-partner- 
ship should be had with them. ... So far as we are con- 
cerned, we 'dissolved the Union' with them, as slaveholders, 
the first blow we aimed at their nefarious slave system. We 
do not acknowledge them to be within the pale of Christian- 
ity, of republicanism, of humanity." 30 Privately he told 
friends that disunion was only a question of time and that 
the bloody-minded South could only be brought to terms 
through terrible retribution. 

On January 12, 1842, John Quincy Adams presented to the 
House a petition signed by Benjamin Emerson and forty-five 
citizens of Haverhill, Massachusetts all Democrats with 
Locof oco principles praying that the Union might be speed- 
ily dissolved. The petition was not the first of its kind to 
reach the House: Adams reminded Robert Barnwell Rhett 
of South Carolina that not long ago he had offered a similar 
appeal. This fact did not deter the Southern bloc from threat- 


ening a vote of censure, but Adams squelched their plans by 
recalling that at the trial of Warren Hastings, Burke spoke 
for a month. Two weeks after Adams's skirmish Garrison 
and his Massachusetts Society held a rally in Faneuil Hall to 
unroll the Irish Petition signed by famed Daniel O'Connell 
and seventy thousand Irishmen urging their American breth- 
ren to support the abolitionists. In the course of the meeting 
Garrison offered three incendiary resolutions. The first pro- 
vided that Massachusetts Senators and Representatives who, 
like Adams, were denied their rights in Congress, "ought at 
once to withdraw to their homes." His second resolution pro- 
claimed the Union "a hollow mockery," and a third an- 
nounced the time approaching "when the American Union 
will be dissolved in form as it is now in fact." 31 To George 
Benson he wrote that he was both 

an Irish Repealer and an American Repealer. I go for the repeal 
of the Union between England and Ireland, and for the repeal of 
the Union between North and South. We must dissolve all con- 
nexion with those murderers of fathers, and murderers of 
mothers, and murderers of liberty and traffickers in human flesh, 
and blasphemers against the Almighty, at the South. What have 
we in common with them? What have we gained, what have we 
not lost, by our alliance with them? Are not their principles, 
their pursuits, their policies, their interests, their designs, their 
feelings, utterly diverse from ours? Why, then, be subject to their 
dominion? Why not have the Union dissolved in form, as it is 
in fact especially if the form gives ample protection to the 
slave system by securing for it all the physical force of the North? 
It is not treason against the cause of liberty to cry 'Down with 
every slaveholding Union!' And, O, that I had a voice louder 
than a thousand thunders, that it might shake the land and elec- 
trify the dead! the dead in sin, I mean those skin by the hand 
of slavery. 32 


The more he studied it the more compelling the idea of 
Northern secession became. In an editorial in April, 1842, he 
reverted to the haunting childhood nightmare of the ship- 
wreck. "It is now settled beyond all controversy," he wrote, 
"that this nation is out on a storm-tossed sea, without com- 
pass, or chart, or rudder, and with the breakers of destruction 
roaring all around her. . . . They who would be saved must 
gird themselves with life-preservers, and be prepared to fill 
the life-boat without delay." Escape to Eden while there is 
still time, he seemed to be saying, make the repeal of the 
Union your salvation! Then suddenly he placed a new motto 
on the masthead of the editorial column: A REPEAL OF THE 


Garrison took his disunion text from the twenty-eighth 
chapter of Isaiah: "We have made a covenant with death, 
and with hell are we in agreement." The covenant was the 
United States Constitution which a whole new group of 
Liberty Party theoreticians was expounding as anti-slavery. 
As long as he had believed in the possibility of governmental 
action in behalf of the slave, Garrison held to the view that 
the Founding Fathers had intended to contain and eventually 
to abolish slavery. Now that a political party sought to elab- 
orate the anti-slavery content of the document, he reversed 
his position and denounced the Constitution as a corrupt 
bargain. For once, he went to the sources. In the Federalist 
Papers he found nothing but exhibitions of profligacy, selfish- 
ness, and "a shocking violation of heaven-attested principles." 
Ignoring the Northwest Ordinance, he identified the key to 
the Constitution as the three-fifths clause, which proved that 
the United States was "conceived in sin, and brought forth 
in iniquity." No man could innocently support it and no 


party cou" ^der it. "The political ballot-box is of Satanic 

origin, an V wicked and murderous," he concluded 

with regs nstitutional provisions for voting. "We 

must ceasi it, or give up our profession of Christi- 

anity." 33 J md Liberty Party men felt otherwise, 

they were is or hypocrites. 

Disunion good deal further than most abolitionists, 

even loyal Ga., xsonians, were prepared to go. Lydia and 
David Child, who had reluctantly assumed joint editorship 
of the Standard on the understanding that Garrison would 
leave them alone, complained that he was foisting his own 
private views on the national society. Following their lead, 
that society at its annual meeting in 1 842 refused to consider 
the question of disunion as a topic for the usual resolutions. 
But the next year Garrison collected enough votes in the 
Massachusetts Society to pass his resolution calling for an 
end to the Union. "We dissolved the Union by a handsome 
vote, after a warm debate," Quincy reported to Webb. The 
disunion question, "wrapped up by Garrison in some of his 
favorite Old Testament Hebraisms by way of a vehicle," slid 
neatly through the assembly. 34 

The same motion did not fare so well at the annual meet- 
ing of the American Society in New York that year. The 
chief order of business in 1843 concerned the fate of the 
society itself. Some of the members favored disbanding it 
on the spot; others were for moving it to Boston for the 
reason, as Quincy explained, "that there was literally nobody 
in New York but James S. Gibbons who either would or 
could act as a member of the Executive Committee." When 
the exchanges of opinions grew sharp, someone suggested 
in the interests of morale that the matter be turned over to a 
committee of twenty-five empowered to decide the question 
once and for all. In the committee Garrison, Collins, Foster, 


and Abby Kelley led the faction favoring removal of the so- 
ciety to Boston. Quincy, Phillips, and Caroline Weston of 
the Boston clique vehemently opposed the move on the 
grounds that it was tantamount to disbanding the national 
society. There was a noticeable chill when Quincy stiffly sug- 
gested that if the move were voted, certain of the "Boston 
friends," by which he meant Phillips and himself, might not 
continue to support the society. " Garrison dilated his nostrils 
like a war-horse, and snuffed at us," Quincy recalled. He said 
that of course, if the "Boston friends" were unwilling to take 
trouble and responsibility, then there was nothing to do but 
get along in the old way. A compromise was worked out, 
however, which gave a quorum in the Executive Committee 
to Boston so that business meetings might be held there while 
nominal headquarters were continued in New York. Garri- 
son was forthwith elected president of the American Anti- 
Slavery Society. He "nolo episcoparfd" a bit, Quincy noted 
maliciously, but ended by accepting the honor gratefully. 35 
It was the opinion of the society that he made an excellent 
presiding officer at public meetings where he was limited to 
introducing speakers, but that in debates he did not answer 
so well since he was very apt to do all the talking himself. 
With Garrison in the president's chair it was only a question 
of time before the American Society, like the Massachusetts 
organization, should bow before his secessionist will. 

The defeat of the friends of the Union within the national 
organization came the following year, in 1844. Backed by 
his host of New England radicals and upheld by the honors 
of his office, Garrison celebrated the tenth anniversary of 
the society by completely rewriting the Declaration of Senti- 
ments. Henceforth members were pledged to the rallying cry 
"No Union with Slaveholders," as well as to renouncing the 
Constitution as a covenant with death and an agreement with 


hell. The society was further committed to opposing all 
political parties and spreading the doctrine that "the strongest 
political influence which they can wield for the overthrow 
of slavery is, to cease sustaining the existing compact by with- 
drawing from the polls, and calmly waiting for a time when 
a righteous government shall supersede the institutions of 

Garrison's resolutions and new Declaration of Principles 
were accepted by the society only after a minority bitterly 
opposed to them had been silenced. Ellis Gray Loring and 
David Lee Child, both loyal Whigs, might have been ex- 
pected to balk at disunion and so perhaps might the Quakers. 
But there were other veterans in the cause, dedicated but 
prudent men, who doubted the wisdom of disunion and ob- 
jected strongly to the speciousness of the prophet's words. 
He answered their objections with another quotation from 
Isaiah "For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, 
and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this 
people. . . ." 

Removed from their political setting, Garrison's statements 
stand out in hallucinatory starkness. Yet this kind of moral 
absolute was commonplace in the charged atmosphere of the 
election year 1844, when voters realized that the admission 
of Texas hung in the balance. Thomas Walker Gilmer, Vir- 
ginia's favorite son, declared that annexation was absolutely 
essential to American security, that only hasty approval could 
prevent Great Britain's seizing Texas and abolishing slavery 
there. Other Southern spokesmen, holding that any check on 
the expansion of slavery would split the Union, argued at the 
same time for Senator Robert John Walker's "diffusion 
theory" by which annexation was to hasten the end of slav- 
ery by "diffusing" the institution throughout the new terri- 
tory. Fantasy was in the air and threats of secession abounded. 


At the close of the session in 1843 Adams and twelve other 
anti-slavery members of the House issued a circular sum- 
marizing the history of the Texas negotiations and warning 
that annexation would be identical with dissolution of the 
Union. Following their lead, the Whig legislature of Massa- 
chusetts passed a resolution (killed by Democratic Governor 
Marcus Morton) declaring that annexation could only be 
regarded by the people of the Commonwealth as "dangerous 
to its continuance in peace, in prosperity, and in enjoyment 
of those blessings which it is the object of free government 
to secure." 36 The gap between the abolitionists and the peo- 
ple of the North was beginning to close. 

On April 12, 1844, Calhoun, now Secretary of State, signed 
the annexation treaty and sent it to the Senate with the ex- 
planation that hurried approval was needed to forestall British 
interference with slavery in Texas. What was called slavery, 
Calhoun added, was in reality a political institution essential 
to the peace, safety, and prosperity of those states in the 
Union in which it existed. American slaves were better off 
than many British or American workmen; and until abolition- 
ists on both sides of the Atlantic learned this, they would do 
well not to meddle. Calhoun's remarks opened a new phase 
of the slavery controversy, the beginning of a close cooper- 
ation of Southern politicians and intellectuals in defense of 
the "peculiar institution," and in the North a new liaison be- 
tween moderate abolitionists and insurgent Whigs. Southern 
plans for a quick ratification misfired when Calhoun's rival, 
Thomas Hart Benton, in a bid for Senate leadership, detached 
enough Southern votes from the annexationist party to defeat 
the treaty (June 9, 1844), Folk's election, however, was 
correctly interpreted by the South as a mandate for annex- 
ation, and on February 27, 1845, the joint resolution adding 
the new territory to the Union was accepted by both Houses. 


Three days before he left office President Tyler signed it. 

Annexation caught the Massachusetts General Court still 
in a refractory mood. It passed resolutions declaring first of 
all that there was no precedent for the admission of new 
territory by legislative act, and secondly, that in ratifying the 
Constitution Massachusetts had never delegated this power 
to the federal government. Next it asserted that the joint 
resolution violated the Constitution by perpetuating slavery 
and extending the unequal ratio of representation over the 
new territory. Finally, the legislature announced its readiness 
to cooperate with other states in refusing to recognize annex- 
ation, and "by every lawful and constitutional measure, to 
annul its conditions and defeat its accomplishment." 37 If the 
General Court's invitation to disobedience did not measure 
up to Garrison's standards, it was as close as a group of politi- 
cians could come in the year 1845. 

Some of these same men crowded into Faneuil Hall one 
evening in January, 1845, to attend an Anti-Texas Conven- 
tion. Among the delegates was Charles Francis Adams, the 
able if antiseptic son of Old Man Eloquent and an articulate 
opponent of slavery in his own right. At the moment he was 
editor of the Boston Whig, the organ of the younger mem- 
bers of the party with strong anti-slavery tendencies. Charles 
Sumner, massive and pompous, was there along with the 
quieter but equally tenacious Henry Wilson. Also Horace 
Mann, a reformer turned politician, and John G. Palfrey, 
Harvard professor and editor of the North American Review, 
Stephen Phillips, the Salem merchant, and George Hillard. 
These men were already growing restive under the leader- 
ship of the "Cotton" conservatives in the Whig Party, and it 
would not be long before they bolted and took their "Con- 
science" platform into the Free Soil Party. This evening, 
however, they had met simply to protest the annexation of 


Texas and listen to speeches. One of the speakers, it was 
said, would be Garrison himself. 

Waiting his turn on the rostrum, Garrison turned his mind 
from these new faces to the other friends he had made in his 
fifteen years of agitation. Many of them were gone, their 
affection chilled by his wintry righteousness and domineering 
manner. The roll call of discarded friends grew each year 
Lundy, now dead, the Tappan brothers, Goodell, Leavitt, 
Elizur Wright, the Grimkes and Theodore Weld, Amos 
Phelps and John Whittier. More recently, George Bradburn, 
gone over to the Whigs, and the Childs David and Lydia 
no longer able to bear his dictatorial manner. The list of the 
rejected and damned would continue to grow Nathaniel 
Rogers, Frederick Douglass, Ellis Gray Loring, finally even 
Phillips himself. These new recruits before him this evening 
could not make up the loss of tried anti-slavery comrades. 
They spoke with respect of his services in the cause and de- 
ferred politely to his religious opinions, but they did not agree 
with him. He suddenly realized that at the age of forty he 
had become the veteran of the anti-slavery movement, almost 
the lone figure of virtue and strength he had always wanted 
to be. 

These disturbing thoughts were drowned in the applause 
that welled up and engulfed him as he rose to speak. Not 
many in the audience could accept his ideas, but all were 
visibly moved by his manner the ponderous rolling periods, 
the mournful pauses, and the flat hard voice rising again to 
new charges. His words fell like "fiery rain," Surnner remem- 
bered. "We deem it our duty ... no binding force what- 
ever . . . the Constitution has been overthrown . . . the 
Union has ceased to exist . . . treat the General Government 
as a nullity . . . assemble in convention without delay . . ." 
The ovation at the end of his speech was a signal not of ap- 


probation but of respect. His audience seemed to realize 
that though they could never come to like this inflexibly 
righteous man, they could not help but respond to his force. 
He might well be fanatical no doubt he exaggerated but 
some of the things he said about the Southern plot to extend 
slavery to the Pacific made sense. In the half-light of Faneuil 
Hall and the dimness of their growing doubts they sat won- 

Later that year, in October, after the Texas protests had 
begun to subside, the Liberator paid its editor's last respects 
to the nonresistance cause which was slowly expiring. Non- 
resistance and the redemption of the world, Garrison wrote, 
were clearly synonymous. "Where it prevails, there can be 
no shedding of human blood, no violence, no lawless con- 
duct." The cause of peace might have lost its appeal tempo- 
rarily but it would never die. In the next column there was 
an account of his speech to the Middlesex Anti-Slavery So- 
ciety. "Give us but five years to agitate the question of disso- 
lution," he had said, "and at the end of that brief period, see 
whether we have made any progress in changing public 
sentiment. . . * We believe that the dissolution of the Union 
must give the death-blow to the entire slave system," 88 Al- 
ready he foresaw a revolution which would come complete 
with noise and the smoke of guns. 


IN MAY, 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico. 
Zachary Taylor spent the Fourth of July that year in the 
captured village of Matamoros awaiting reinforcements and 
treating his weary soldiers to Mexican cooking and patriotic 
speeches. Two thousand miles to the northeast the "beauti- 
fully small" troop of loyal Garrisonians gathered in Dedham 
Grove to hear their leader's last indictment of the war before 
sailing to England. Two weeks later he boarded the Britannia 
in Boston Harbor and arrived in Liverpool on July 3 1 for a 
reunion with his English friends. 

His Boston friends were decidedly unenthusiastic about the 
visit, his last before the Civil War. At an Executive Com- 
mittee meeting in June they sat by while he quarreled with 
young Sydney Gay over the management of the Standard. 
The Childs could have told Gay that Garrison would tolerate 
no one who showed the least editorial independence. Lydia 
said that Garrison's idea of a proper editorial was a preamble 
and a dozen resolutions, and that when he went to heaven he 
would present Saint Peter with resolutions that protested be- 
ing admitted by a traitor who had betrayed his master, a blood- 
thirsty villain who cut off the high priest's ears, and a mis- 
creant who had been warned thrice by the beast. 

His spat with Gay arose over the question of whether 


contributors to the Standard should sign their editorials. He 
accused Gay of trying to get credit for editorials he had not 
written and of plotting to seize control of the paper. While 
he and Gay thrashed out the question of signatures, the rest 
of the committee grew more and more glum and did not 
brighten when he broached the subject of another pilgrimage 
to England. "The poor thing wanted to be stood by and put 
through with warmth & energy," Caroline Weston wrote to 
her sisters, "but if the board were cataleptic about Sydney, 
they were equally so about him." 1 Finally Phillips and Quincy 
gave in; James Russell Lowell, who had recently joined the 
group, withdrew his objections; and Francis Jackson promised 
to underwrite the trip. All that was needed was a reason for 
going. This he manufactured out of the transgressions of the 
Free Church of Scotland which had accepted funds from a 
slaveholding Presbyterian congregation in South Carolina. He 
left the country in the midst of its first anti-slavery crisis in 
order to protest the "foul deed" of the Free Church and 
demand that they "Send Back the Money." 

Enlightening the Free Church of Scotland, he protested, 
required "great exertions." English and Scotch abolitionists, 
however, were of the opinion that his services to anti-slavery 
would be greater if he confined himself to it instead of letting 
fly at the church, the Bible, or any other "great object" that 
stood in the way of universal liberty. In London he visited 
Thompson and was disturbed to find that he had taken to 
using tobacco. "If I can induce him to give up this habit, and 
sign the tee-total pledge in regard to snuff," he told his wife, 
"I shall feel it worth the expense of coming to London." The 
city, which teemed with pubs and prostitutes, shocked him. 
Standing in front of the Lord Mayor's house one night, he 
was accosted by a handsomely dressed lady of the evening 
who gave him "the most earnest glances in a manner revealing 


her desire. . . . After advancing a few steps she turned round, 
and in the most insinuating manner acted as though she ex- 
pected me to go with her. . . . My heart sank within me to 
think of the horrid fate of that unfortunate creature." 2 He 
was glad that he was a Bostonian. 

Frederick Douglass, already on a mission in Scotland, ap- 
peared with him at most of his lectures. Together they 
toured from London to Edinburgh, Bristol to Belfast, hold- 
ing "real old fashioned old-organized meetings" at which 
they declared "the whole counsel of God" and handled their 
subjects "without mittens." 3 Garrison spoke to William Lov- 
ett's moral suasion Chartists and interviewed Mazzini, whose 
mystical Christian nationalism and romantic temperament fas- 
cinated him. In Glasgow his admirers presented him with a 
silver tea service. Except for the formation of an Anti-Slavery 
League to oppose the conservative Evangelical Alliance, how- 
ever, he accomplished little for American reform. Douglass, 
on the other hand, received seven hundred dollars from Eng- 
lish abolitionists to purchase his freedom. Garrison contributed 
his "mite," only to be severely criticized by his followers 
back home for recognizing the slave traffic. Such was not 
the case, he explained. "Never have I entertained the opin- 
ion, for a moment, that it was wrong to ransom one held in 
cruel captivity, though I have always maintained, in the case 
of the slave, that the demand of the slaveholder for compensa- 
tion was unjust." 4 He saw no contradiction in denouncing a 
claim as unfair while submitting to it in order to save an 
individual slave. 

It was on occasions like these that his humanitarian feelings 
broke the restraints of dogma and sent his principles flying. 
In Drogheda on the way to Belfast he was appalled by the 
sight of starving Irish children begging by the roadside, and 
grew indignant with the Dublin abolitionists who refused 


donations from American slaveholders. "I really think there 
is a broad line of demarcation to be drawn between a case in 
which money is obtained from the slaveholders solely be- 
cause they are first recognized as 'members of the household 
of faith,' and that in which it is given voluntarily (as in the 
Irish case) without any sanction of slaveholding being either 
required, volunteered, or understood." 5 Righteous as he 
seemed, he was not willing to weigh a moral principle against 
the life of a child. 

In November he came home bringing with him the silver 
tea set on which there was a sixty-dollar duty. The excise 
was finally paid by his women friends, but it was enough to 
make him a confirmed free-trader who denied the right of 
any country "to erect geographical or natural barriers in 
opposition to these natural, essential and sacred rights." 6 He 
would have been surprised to learn that his language as well 
as his ideas were those of the South Carolina Exposition. 

He returned to a political situation in Massachusetts already 
tense with anti-slavery strain. The trouble began in Washing- 
ton one evening the previous August when David Wilmot, a 
portly young Democrat from Pennsylvania, offered to an 
appropriations bill an amendment which closed to slavery all 
the territory acquired in the war with Mexico. Passed by the 
House, the Wilmot Proviso died in the Senate but not before 
it had raised the issue which would dominate American poli- 
tics for the next fifteen years. Southern legislatures denounced 
it, Northern reformers hailed it as a sign of moral awakening. 
In the South there was talk of secession; in the North, of free 
men and free soil. The Whig Party could not long with- 
stand these sectional pressures, and nowhere was its plight 
more obvious than in Massachusetts, where the "Young 
Whigs" Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, John Gotham 
Palfrey, Rockwood Hoar, George S. HHlard, Stephen Phil- 


lips and Charles Allen were rallying around Charles Fran- 
cis Adams's free soil Daily Whig. Ever since the declaration 
of war Wilson had tried unsuccessfully to put the legislature 
on record as opposing the extension of slavery. In the course 
of one of the debates his colleague Hoar declared that it was 
"as much the duty of Massachusetts to pass resolutions in 
favor of the rights of man as in the interests of cotton.'* Hoar's 
quip stuck, and from then on the dispute was one between 
Cotton and Conscience. At the state convention of the party 
in September, 1847, the Conscience faction submitted resolu- 
tions opposing slavery "wherever it exists" and pledging 
Whigs to "continue in all constitutional measures that can 
promote its abolition." When Robert Winthrop's Cotton fac- 
tion defeated their bid for an anti-slavery platform, the Young 
Whigs retired to await the coming of a Presidential year. 

Garrison was excited by the sudden appearance of an anti- 
slavery Whig bloc as well as by the Wilmot Proviso, which 
he immediately claimed as an abolitionist triumph. It was true 
that Wilmot's majority had dwindled away when the appro- 
priations bill was finally passed and that the war went on 
despite the opposition of New England. Yet every day more 
people in the North were becoming convinced of what James 
Russell Lowell's crusty Hosea Biglow called "the over- 
reachin* o' them nigger-drivin' states." When the discouraged 
Wilmot asked if the North would ever find its courage and 
its voice, the answer came from his own colleagues. Robert 
McClelland of Michigan warned that slavery would expand 
"wherever man, in his cupidity and lust for power can carry it." 
David Brinkerhoff of Ohio asked whether the extension of 
slavery "at which posterity will blush, which Christianity 
must abhor," ought to be the work of representatives of free 
men. A Representative from Alabama deplored these "ill- 
starred agitations" which were disrupting the normal business 


of the House but he could not stop them. Garrison appkuded 
the new freedom of debate in Congress. Now any Northerner 
could speak out against slavery and be heard. 

His opposition to the war mounted as the months passed: 
he prayed for "success to the injured Mexicans and over- 
whelming defeat to the United States." 7 He went further 
and outlined a defeatist program for the Garrisonians "now 
boldly and continually to denounce the war, under such 
circumstances, as bloody and iniquitous to impeach the gov- 
ernment and the administration to wish success to the Mexi- 
cans as the injured party, who are contending for their fire- 
sides and their country against enslaving and remorseless 
invaders/' 8 Let the abolitionists' testimony burn as never be- 
fore into the national conscience. It no longer mattered that 
his organization lay in shambles and his admirers grew fewer 
each year, for he was convinced that his little remnant was 
slowly gaining ascendancy over the public mind. Whigs and 
Democrats still feared disunion like the plague, but they 
would come to it soon enough. Meanwhile he could afford 
to wait. 

Control of the national organization as well as the Massa- 
chusetts Society now rested with the Boston clique, who were 
beginning to exert a new influence over their leader. Gone 
was the fiery zeal of the Gome-Outers. Rogers had died worn 
out by a factional dispute with the Bostonians and disillu- 
sioned by Garrison's unwillingness to accept all the implica- 
tions of Christian anarchy. Henry Wright had virtually aban- 
doned anti-slavery for anti-Sabbatarianism. Stephen Symonds 
Foster was losing his martyr complex in marriage, and Parker 
Pillsbury had settled on a less hazardous manner of spreading 
the gospel. The backfires of religious radicalism were smolder- 
ing out, and the decisions were now made in camera around 


the polished grates in Essex Street drawing rooms according 
to Phillips's advice "to have only a few/' 

By 1847 ^e Liberty Party was foundering. If abolition 
embarrassed the politicians, politics was proving the undoing 
of abolitionists. In the previous year the state of New York 
called a convention to write a new constitution. Some of the 
Liberty Party men, who hoped to win broader suffrage for 
Negroes, decided to advocate alliances with Whigs and Demo- 
crats in return for the promise of support for an extended 
franchise. Birney refused to have anything to do with the 
scheme and warned his followers of the danger of entangling 
alliances. The new state constitution bore out his warnings: 
by its terms Negroes were not considered in the apportion- 
ment of representation, and a property qualification was estab- 
lished large enough to disqualify almost every Negro in the 

The New York constitutional convention merely under- 
scored a problem which had troubled the political abolitionists 
from the beginning, the question of a platform. They knew 
that they could never build a successful party merely by 
pledging members not to vote for pro-slavery candidates. But 
to pile the anti-slavery platform with a stack of new planks 
anti-bank, anti-tariff, anti-Masonry was to risk toppling the 
whole structure. Many of the Liberty Party men, however, 
shared the business ethic of the small entrepreneur; and to 
them the advantages of combining anti-slavery and a small 
businessman's credo seemed obvious. A group of schismatics 
tinder the leadership of William Goodell formed the Liberty 
League in June, 1847, and proceeded to write a platform that 
included land reform, free trade, abolition of monopolies, 
direct taxation, and prohibition of secret societies along with 
the usual anti-slavery plank. The Liberty League promptly 
nominated Gerrit Smith for President of the United States. 


It was a measure of the confusion besetting political abolition- 
ists in 1847 that Smith, who less than a year before had 
vehemently opposed broadening the platform, accepted the 
nomination while continuing to work with the old Liberty 
Party. He paid for his indecision when the Liberty Party 
Convention in the fall of 1847 defeated his attempt to intro- 
duce some of the League's ideas and gave the Presidential 
nomination to John P. Hale of New Hampshire. From both 
Smith's point of view and that of the Liberty Party itself it 
looked as though political abolitionists would never succeed in 
uniting on an anti-slavery program. 

Garrison was delighted with the dissension in the Liberty 
Party. He decided to help kill the political dragon and then 
display the carcass on a tour throughout the Mississippi Val- 
ley. Before leaving Boston he prepared for his mission by 
attacking the Liberty League in a series of editorials as a 
hopelessly unrealistic venture. Its nominees, he noted malici- 
ously, might as well conclude at the outset that a private 
station was a post of honor. The Liberty Party with its doc- 
trine of the unconstitutionality of slavery, however, was a 
more serious matter. He pointed out that Birney, Smith, and 
Goodell had originally denied the power of Congress to inter- 
fere with slavery but now unaccountably were reversing 
their position. "And should that party succeed at any time in 
electing to Congress a majority of Senators and Representa- 
tives, does it mean to pass a law, and of course to enforce 
the law, declaring slavery to be unlawful on any portion of 
American soil?" 10 This would mean disunion, yet anything 
short of it was abject surrender to the slavocracy. Why not 
go the whole way by accepting the logic of Northern seces- 

To find this answer, he started west in August, 1847, taking 
with him Frederick Douglass, who had reasons of his own 


for going. English abolitionists had suggested the advantages 
of an American anti-slavery newspaper edited by a Negro; 
and Douglass, realizing that the seaboard was oversupplied 
with competing abolitionist journals, wanted to investigate 
Cleveland as a site for his paper. Garrison received the project 
coldly, for he wanted no new rival either in Massachusetts 
or Ohio. He tried to convince Douglass that his talent lay 
in lecturing, but the headstrong Douglass immediately sus- 
pected his motives. The tour put a severe strain on their 

They stopped first in Norristown for the tenth anniversary 
meeting of the Eastern Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, 
one of the last of the Garrisonian redoubts. Although Garri- 
son and Lucretia Mott spoke long and forcibly, Douglass was 
the star attraction. He gave a sharp and pungent exposition 
of secessionist doctrine, not even pausing when a gang of 
rowdies began to smash the windows of the meetinghouse. 
On the trip from Philadelphia to Harrisburg they got an- 
other taste of racial prejudice which made them realize how 
tolerant New England really was. Douglass had taken a place 
in the rear of the railroad car instead of the customary spot 
near the door. Suddenly, he was dragged from his seat and 
tossed into the aisle by a drunken lawyer who threatened to 
knock his teeth down his throat. He got slowly to his feet 
and methodically dusted himself off. Then, staring con- 
temptuously at his assailant, he told him that only the ob- 
vious fact that he was no gentleman saved him from a duel 
with any weapons he might choose. The nonresistant Garri- 
son suffered an uneasy moment before the lawyer mumbled 
another insult and returned to his seat. 

Harrisburg lived up to its reputation as a pro-slavery town. 
Garrison was allowed to finish his lecture, but the minute 
the "nigger" rose to speak, the hostile audience sprang to 


life. It was the most violent demonstration Garrison had seen 
since the Boston riot. "They came equipped with rotten eggs 
and brickbats, firecrackers and other missiles, and made use 
of them somewhat freely/' he wrote to Helen, " breaking 
panes of glass, and soiling the clothes of some who were 
struck by the eggs. One of these bespattered my head and 
back somewhat freely." 11 Douglass was struck with a brick- 
bat; Garrison escaped with only a moist head. 

A happier reception awaited them in Pittsburgh, where 
there was a sizable colony of free Negroes. A twenty-piece 
band waited until three o'clock in the morning to serenade 
Douglass on his arrival, and he had to speak five times in 
three days. His strong baritone voice began to give out; by 
the end of the tour he could hardly croak. Garrison also 
drove himself hard, speaking several times a day and then 
conversing endlessly with his hosts after his performances. 
Following an unsatisfactory meeting in New Brighton, Penn- 
sylvania, the two jaded lecturers were joined by Stephen 
Foster, fresh from the East, and the threesome moved on to 
New Lyme, Ohio, for a three-day meeting with the Western 
Anti-Slavery Society. The Western Society was the lone 
outpost of Garrisonism in Ohio. Its members had decided to 
pit their leader and his secessionist ideas against the poEtical 
anti-slavery of Joshua Giddings. Giddings had been a young 
country lawyer when Weld converted him to abolition and, 
once elected to Congress, he joined John Quincy Adams in 
fighting for the right of petition. He was a durable contestant, 
not brilliant, but stubborn and opinionated. At the time of the 
Creole affair he showed his contempt for a threatened Whig 
vote of censure by resigning his seat, standing for re-election, 
and triumphantly returning to the House. Giddings was 
neither a profound anti-slavery theoretician nor an especially 
acute parliamentarian, but his rough-and-ready style of de~ 


bate and his devotion to free soil principles made him just the 
man to force Garrison to define and defend disunion. 

As he first explained it, Garrison's doctrine of disunion was 
a pure moral abstraction devoid of practical considerations. 
"Friends of liberty and humanity must immediately withdraw 
from the compact of bloody and deceitful men, to cease 
striking hands with adulterers." Nothing more. Given as an 
ultimatum from God, disunion was as empty of specifics as a 
Cartesian proposition. Though he insisted that his doctrine 
was one of "order and obedience," he had, in fact, not a 
formula but a letter of marque from God. Faith in God ob- 
viated the need for a plan. "The form of government that 
shall succeed the present government of the United States," 
he wrote in 1844, "let time determine." 12 It would be a waste 
of effort to argue the question until all the people were 
regenerated and turned from their iniquity. Meanwhile the 
value of secessionist agitation lay in arousing the North, and 
convulsing the South by showing it the enormity of its sin. 

The Mexican War put secession in a new light, and gradu- 
ally he began to think of it as a practical solution to the slavery 
problem. "We do not think any one state will go out of the 
Union alone," he wrote in May, 1847. "The movement will 
be simultaneous throughout New England, and probably 
throughout all the non-slaveholding states," First a line would 
be drawn separating slave from free states. The Southern 
states would have to combine into a confederacy, "for, aside 
from the appalling fact that she would have three millions of 
enemies in her midst, smarting from numberless wrongs and 
outrages, how would she be able to prevent the escape of any 
indefinite number of her slaves to the new republic?" Even a 
Southern confederacy could not hold its slaves, who would 
"leap in the twinkling of an eye, and be beyond the reach 
of danger." What state would then be willing to be a border 


state? "Each would inevitably be compelled to emancipate 
all the slaves on its soil; and then the same necessity would 
be imposed upon the States next in geographical position; 
and this would lead to a general and peaceful abolition 
throughout the entire South." 13 So he argued now to the dis- 
may of Joshua Giddings and his Ohio farmers. Giddings 
proved kind and generous, but Garrison thought his argu- 
ments specious and reported to Helen that he had with him 
"the understanding and conscience" of the overwhelming 

At Oberlin, where he stopped for a few days, he examined 
the wilderness college and met the famous Dr. Finney. He 
was pleased to see the evangelistic enterprise flourishing but 
objected to Oberlin's ecclesiastical leanings which tended to 
"impair the strength of its testimony, and diminish the power 
of its example." Finney surprised him, however, by telling 
the graduating class that they must be "anti-devil all over" 
and join all the reforms of their age. Garrison debated dis- 
union again, this time with crusty Asa Mahan, whose opinions 
he found "perfectly respectable" but "neither vigorous nor 
profound." 14 He left for Cleveland satisfied with the effect 
of peaceable secession on the college. 

The feverish pace and the intense heat of the Midwestern 
summer were taking their toll Garrison's agents had arranged 
three and sometimes four lectures a day, often twenty miles 
apart. He spoke in steaming lecture halls and damp pine 
groves, wherever he could collect an audience, and when 
Douglass's voice gave out, he substituted for him. "My labors, 
for the last four weeks, had been excessive in severity far 
exceeding anything in my experience. Too much work was 
laid out for both Douglass and myself, to be completed in so 
short a time; yet it was natural that our Ohio friends should 
wish to 'make the most of us' whilst we were in their hands." 15 " 


He was to remain in their hands for two more months: in 
Cleveland he fell desperately ill with what a homeopathic 
surgeon called an "intermittent fever with a tendency towards 
typhoid." For nearly six weeks he lay in the house of his 
Cleveland friends too weak to move. Meanwhile Douglass 
left for Syracuse and Rochester to scout out a site for his 
newspaper. When Garrison recovered and found that he had 
been abandoned in his illness for a project of which he 
strongly disapproved, he was furious with Douglass and com- 
plained bitterly of his "impulsive, inconsiderate and highly 
inconsistent" behavior. 16 In November he was enough better 
to come home to Boston, but once arrived suffered a relapse 
and remained invalided until the first of the year. 

Once he recovered from his Western tour he plunged 
into still another conference, this one an Anti-Sabbath Con- 
vention at Theodore Parker's Melodeon to help protest what 
Parker called the fierce "this-worldliness" of New England. 
Garrison and Parker, despite the great intellectual gulf be- 
tween them, were kindred souls. Parker had been converted 
to abolition largely by the example of Garrison and his fol- 
lowers and had also succumbed to the pull of universal re- 
form. He had attended the Chardon Street Convention and 
now heartily approved of another such meeting to destroy the 
superstition and cant which kept the masses "in their present 
low state." 17 He had no fear of revolutions, he told Garrison; 
Americans had conservative principles enough. 

Most of the Garrisonians rallied to the call. Phillips refused 
to attend, and Quincy was annoyed with Garrison for chasing 
the will-o'-the-wisp of theological problems instead of con- 
centrating on slavery. "It really seems as if the Devil always 
would put his foot in it," he complained, "whenever the anti- 
slavery cause has got into a tolerable position, so as to keep it 


in hot water." 18 He signed the call anyway, protesting all the 
while against Garrison's private idiosyncrasies. 

For Garrison the very existence of Massachusetts blue laws 
was challenge enough. His call to "The Friends of Civil and 
Religious Liberty" presented still another preamble and a 
long list of resolutions attacking a "Sabbatizing clergy" and 
its "merely ceremonial religion." The convention debated his 
propositions with imagination and gusto, although the mem- 
bers could agree on nothing more than a general disapproval 
of Sunday laws. The accounts in the Liberator, however, and 
its editor's vendetta against an "arrogant priesthood" sug- 
gested nothing less than a theological revolution. 

He was discovering that the right of private judgment in 
theological matters led straight to rationalism. The problem 
of the age as he saw it was that of winnowing the chaff of 
superstitition from the grain of Christian ethics. In the case 
of dogma this seemed simple enough. He rejected the phrase 
"Mother of God" as absurd and blasphemous. "If Mary was 
the mother of God, who was the father of God?" He also 
objected to the verse in Wesley's hymn which began "O love 
divine! what hast thou done? /The immortal God hath died 
for me!" as a contradiction in terms. The question of Chris- 
tian ethics, he admitted, posed greater difficulty. He insisted 
that the "wine" mentioned in the Bible was unfermented 
grape juice, but argued that "the expediency, the morality of 
wine-drinking is not to be settled by an appeal to any book." 
His case for abstinence rested on "chemical analysis" and the 
moral consequences of imbibing. The same was true of all the 
obligations of men to their fellow men, which were "in no 
degree affected by the question whether miracles were 
wrought in Judea or not, with whatever interest that question 
may be invested." 11 * 

It was probably Theodore Parker who first led Garrison 


to re-examine the doctrine of plenary inspiration. Parker's 
was a mind tougher and better trained than any he had found 
yet, and his "applied Christianity" struck an immediate chord 
of response. Parker believed that there had been three ages 
in the world, the age of sentiment, the age of ideas, and the 
age of action. In failing to socialize Christianity the church 
lagged behind the growth of modern institutions. The first 
task for Christians in the new age, he believed, was to disabuse 
themselves of superstition. Garrison was greatly impressed with 
the "Christ-like" arguments of Parker. In an editorial attack- 
ing plenary inspiration he spoke of the Bible for the first 
time as the product of many minds. "To say that everything 
contained within the lids of the Bible is divinely inspired, and 
to insist upon the dogma as fundamentally important, is to 
give utterance to a bold fiction, and to require the suspension 
of the reasoning faculties. To say that everything in the Bible 
is to be believed, simply because it is found in that volume, 
is equally absurd and pernicious." 20 It was for the reason to 
search the Scriptures and decide what was true or false, 

If Garrison's ideas seemed saturated with the musty air of 
eighteenth-century deism, it was because he took them from 
Tom Paine, whom he had always believed "a monster of 
iniquity." Reading Paine proved a stimulating experience for 
one recently delivered from "the thralldom of tradition and 
authority." Paine taught him to apply the "test of just criti- 
cism," to measure the Bible by the standards of reason and 
utility, the facts of science, historical confirmation, and "the 
intuition of the spirit." When Garrison accepted Professor 
Benjamin Silliman's findings as proof that the Mosaic cos- 
mogony was untenable, he stood in the best deist tradition. 
Like Paine, he accepted the Enlightenment fiction derived from 
Newton that the physical and social worlds were governed by 
identical laws. The Bible, he now believed, must reinforce the 


findings of "human experience." By "human experience/' how- 
ever, he meant no such rigid intellectualisin as Paine envisioned, 
but a "felt experience," a testimony of the heart, an intuition 
wholly compatible with his orthodox upbringing. His was 
the kind of pseudo-rationalism that allowed for no real doubts 
as to the superiority of Christianity but only objected to the 
manner in which its truths were received. His hatred of insti- 
tutions and authority blinded him to the real conflict be- 
tween faith and reason and limited his revolt to a petty war 
against a weakened church and outworn doctrine. Had he 
been able to advance beyond this point and see the forces of 
historicism at work, he might have achieved a serviceable 
rationalist critique based on associational and environmental 
psychology. Clearly this was too much for a mind which 
drew its strength not from intellect but from will. 

Insofar as he thought about philosophy at all Garrison 
intuitively held that there were fundamental laws of human 
nature instinctively grasped that told men what was right. 
Thus all the people really needed was conscience. Paine's 
deism, superficial as it might have been, had the merit of 
being militantly anti-clerical and frankly revolutionary. When 
Paine joined the French Revolution to fight for the rights of 
man, he was following his premises to their logical conclu- 
sion. He identified religious superstition with corrupt Euro- 
pean monarchy, and reason with New World democracy. 
Paine's easy assumptions were no longer valid at a time when 
the separation of religion and politics in America was almost 
complete. It was just this separation of religious protest from 
political radicalism, of free thought from class conflict, that 
gutted Garrisonism of its revolutionary content. In Europe 
after the French Revolution anti-clericalism joined the social 
revolution; in America free thought grew up a peaceable 
citizen. Garrison typified this American penchant for com- 



bining reason and religion into a belief no more revolutionary 
than social gospelism. He personified the dilemma of the 
religions radical in America, the avowed nonrevolutionary 
who, despite himself, made a revolution. 

The year 1848 opened on a note of hope every where- 
in Paris, where the monarchy was broken on the barricades, 
in Berlin, London and Vienna, To most Americans it seemed 
as though they had finally succeeded in exporting their own 
revolutionary example, that Europe had finally accepted the 
blessings of democracy. Garrison shared their conviction. 
"The republican form of government is triumphantly estab- 
lished in France," he announced after the February Days. 
"It is, however, but the beginning of the end and that end 
is the downfall of every throne in existence within a score of 
years." 21 When the June Days brought the inevitable dis- 
illusionment, he was too busy studying the revolution in the 
American party system to notice the failure of liberalism in 
Europe. The Free Soil revolt, though it too proved abortive, 
planted the slavery issue in the center of American politics, 
where it remained until the Civil War. 

Both Whigs and Democrats faced the election of 1848 with 
dissension in their ranks. Democratic unrest centered in up- 
state New York, where the party was divided into two war- 
ring factions Hunkers and Barnburners. The Barnburners 
were a curious combination of idealists and opportunists. 
Some of them were simply disgruntled politicians nursing 
hopes of regaining lost patronage; but there were others like 
Preston King, David Dudley Field and William CuHen Bryant, 
the able editor of the N&w York Evening Post, who were 
moderate abolitionists ready to oppose the Hunkers on the 
question of extending slavery. In Pennsylvania, the Democrats 
faced incipient rebellion from Wilmot and his friends, and in 
Ohio, Salmon P. Chase threatened party regulars with revolt 


When the Democratic Convention met in May and nominated 
the expansionist Cass, the Barnburners walked out. Led by 
the wily "Prince John" Van Buren and harboring a number 
of patronage-minded party hacks, the dissident wing of the 
Democracy nevertheless formed the center of anti-slavery 
feeling that soon produced the Free Soil Party. 

The other two sources of the Free Soil movement were 
two pockets of Whig discontent, one in Massachusetts and 
the other in Ohio. Horace Greeley warned his fellow Whigs 
at the beginning of the year that if they nominated Taylor, 
they would elect him but destroy the Whig Party. Greeley 
was right. Beaten by the regulars at the nominating conven- 
tion, the "Young Whigs" bolted and held their own conven- 
tion at Worcester. Insurgent Whigs in Ohio held a similar 
meeting, where they called for a national convention at 
Buffalo. The Free Soil roster was completed when the rem- 
nants of the Liberty Party gave up their candidates and a 
strong anti-slavery plank to join the insurgent Whigs and 

Like all American third party movements, the Free Soil 
Party was an amalgam of high-mindedness and chicanery. Its 
platform was clear enough: slavery was declared a state rather 
than a national institution and as such must be excluded from 
the territories. In their selection of a candidate, however, the 
old campaigners showed their mastery of the art of political 
jugglery. The Liberty Party men were reluctant to give up 
their candidate Hale, but the Conscience Whigs, who held the 
balance of power and were hungry for votes, swung the 
nomination to Van Buren. Before ten thousand spectators 
in Buffalo's City Park the Free Soilers tied their political for- 
tunes to "free soil, free speech, free labor, free men," and the 
slightly shopworn reputation of "Little Van." 

Garrison was vacationing at Northampton with his brother- 


in-law when the Free Soilers launched their series of rallies 
in Massachusetts. He went to one of them and was surprised 
to find many of his old colleagues there. The North, he told 
them, had missed its best chance to abolish slavery when 
Texas was annexed. The Free Soil platform was weaker than 
a spider's web "a single breath of the Slave Power will 
blow it away." Yet if Free Soil fell far short of disunion, it 
was still a step toward it and perhaps the beginning of the 
end. His problem, therefore, was how to give the Free Soilers 
due credit without sanctioning their principles. The danger 
lay in the temptation they offered to loyal abolitionists to 
bow down just this once in the house of Rimmon and vote. 
"Calm yet earnest appeals," he announced, "must be made to 
our friends to preserve their integrity, and not lose sight of the 
true issue." 22 

Whatever the issues, the results of the election of 1848 
were never in doubt. When the Northern Whig leaders 
reluctantly swung their support behind Taylor, his victory 
was assured. He and Cass each carried fifteen states, but 
Taylor won Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and 
140,000 more votes than his opponent. The Free Soil Party 
received 300,000 votes and nine seats in Congress, and in 
Massachusetts it ran ahead of the Democratic ticket. Garrison 
misjudged its strength but not its significance. Free Soil 
brought an end to the uneasy truce between North and 

There was another leader worried about the behavior of 
his followers in the election year of 1848. John C Calhoun 
took the occasion of his visit to Charleston in the summer to 
apprise his constituents of a Northern plot to exclude slavery 
from all of the territories. How could South Carolina decide 
between a Michigan Democrat and an uncommitted Whig? 
Let the state ignore the Presidential canvass and await the 


course of events. If the North was not to be deterred from 
the path of aggression, the South would unite under the 
leadership of South Carolina into a great Southern republican 
party based on slavery. Calhoun's advice was not lost on the 
New England press. The Boston Recorder, noting the similar- 
ity of Garrison's and Calhoun's solutions, remarked that "the 
Garrison faction ought to admire Mr. Calhoun for he is aim- 
ing at the same object with them, though with a thousand 
times more energy and likelihood of effecting their wishes/' 
Calhoun had forty Congressmen to do his bidding, and Garri- 
son not one. 23 

Calhoun's Congressmen were deployed soon after the sit- 
ting of the new Congress to meet the attack of the Free 
Soilers. On December 1 1, 1848, the Free Soilers in the House 
introduced a resolution instructing the proper committee 
to bring in a bill prohibiting the slave trade in the Dis- 
trict of Columbia. This move sent the Southern Congress- 
men scurrying into caucus, from which they emerged with 
Calhoun's "Address of the Southern Delegates to Congress to 
their Constituents" calling for a Southern convention. As 
propaganda Calhoun's "Southern Address" was a masterpiece; 
as prophecy it showed the clear but tragic vision of a dying 
man. The South, he predicted, would never give up slavery 
voluntarily. When emancipation came, it would be forced 
on the South by a federal government dominated by North- 
erners. "It can then only be effected by the prostration of the 
white race; and that would necessarily engender the bitterest 
feelings of hostility between them and the North." Garri- 
son's prediction had not changed, but for once his certainty 
allowed him to be brief. "Our Disunion ground is invulner- 
able, and to it all parties at the North must come ere long." 24 

In the aftermath of the Mexican War it seemed that Garri- 
son and Calhoun spoke the mood of the nation as it ap~ 


proached the problems of administering the new territory. 
The proposals for its disposition were various, but the lan- 
guage in which they were discussed was surprisingly similar. 
Robert Toombs of Georgia, hitherto considered a moderate, 
lashed out at the Free Soilers who refused to abandon the 
Wilmot Proviso. "I do not hesitate to avow before this House 
and the country, and in the presence of a living God, that 
if by your legislation you seek to drive us from the Territories 
and to abolish slavery in the District, I am for disunion; and 
if my physical courage be equal to the maintenance of my 
convictions of right and duty, I will devote all I am and all I 
have to its consummation." When Edward D. Baker of Illinois 
denied the possibility of peaceful secession, Alexander Ste- 
phens countered with an ultimatum. "I tell that gentleman, 
whether he believes it or not, that the day in which aggression 
is consummated on any portion of the country, this Union 
is dissolved." Salmon Chase replied for the Free Soilers by 
reminding Southerners that "no menace, no resolves tending 
to disunion, no intimations of the probability of disunion, in 
any form, will move us from the path which, in our judg- 
ment, it is due to ourselves and the people we represent to 
pursue." Edward Everett, hardly an abolitionist, wrote to 
his friend Nathan Appleton that peaceful separation held 
the only answer to the slavery question. 

Public opinion in both sections of the country rushed 
ahead of Congressional threats. The Sumter (South Carolina) 


SEPARATE REPUBLIC." The editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer 
declared that rather than see slavery extended a single inch 
"we would see this Union rent asunder." "The North," re- 
ported another Ohio paper, "is determined that slavery shall 
not pollute the soil of lands now free . . . even if it should 


come to a dissolution, of the Union." Thus, at a time when 
his apparently irresponsible doctrine of disunion and a suicidal 
policy of proscription had reduced his society to a mere 
skeleton, Garrison's secessionist ideas were reflected in and 
beginning to color the national mood. If a majority of Ameri- 
cans in the North and the South refused to accept disunion 
and tried to ignore the abolitionists and the fire-eaters, it was 
because the slavery issue remained an abstraction, not unreal 
but remote. For most Northerners in 1850 slavery was already 
a moral issue, but one to be met obliquely by a policy of 
containment rather than head-on by immediate emancipation. 
This was the cautious attitude which Clay and Douglas 
brought to the Thirty-first Congress and the drafting of a 
compromise. Clay's ill-starred Omnibus Bill, the basis of the 
Compromise of 1850, was an attempt to meet both Free Soil 
objectives and Southern expansionist aims. As finally passed 
piecemeal by Congress it favored the South. The final com- 
promise provided for the admission of a free California and 
established governments in the rest of the territory; it as- 
sumed the public debt of Texas and redrew its western 
boundary so as to exclude New Mexico. As a concession to 
the North the compromise prohibited the slave trade in the 
District of Columbia but stipulated that slavery should never 
be abolished there without the consent of its residents or 
without compensation. It further declared that Congress had 
no power to interfere with the interstate skve trade. Finally 
and most significantly, it included a new and stringent Fugi- 
tive Slave Act. Fugitive slaves were denied trial by jury and 
could not testify on their own behalf. The power of enforce- 
ment was given to federal commissioners who received a fee 
of ten dollars in case of conviction, only five if the fugitive 
was freed. This provision, Wendell Phillips said, fixed the 
price of a South Carolina Negro at a thousand dollars and 


that of a Yankee's soul at five. Any citizen attempting to 
prevent the arrest of a fugitive was liable to a fine of a thou- 
sand dollars, six months' imprisonment, and damages up to 
another thousand dollars. The Fugitive Slave Act destroyed 
any hope for a satisfactory solution to the slavery problem. 
Without it the South would have refused the compromise; 
with it the compromise was worthless. 

The Compromise of 1850 was the work of elder statesmen 
born in another century for whom the Union was a sacred con- 
cept and a mystical reality. In his defense of the compromise 
Webster ridiculed the idea of disunion. "Secession! Peaceable 
secession! Sir [addressing Calhoun and, by implication, Garri- 
son], your eyes and mine are never destined to see that 
miracle." Clay asked his colleagues to weigh the issues care- 
fully. "In the one scale, we behold sentiment, sentiment, 
sentiment alone; in the other, property, the social fabric, life, 
all that makes life desirable and happy." 25 For Clay "senti- 
ment" meant fanatical belief in abstract principles, and he 
and Webster feared the destructive power of these abstrac- 
tions. They knew the difference between the disruptive prin- 
ciples of the Declaration of Independence and the chastened 
realism of the Founding Fathers, and they preferred the lat- 
ter. Both men were to die within two years, carrying with 
them to the grave the hope for a pragmatic solution to the 
slavery problem. 

This indictment of Garrison was not wholly unjust. Garri- 
son knew little of slavery as an institution and cared less. He 
'was an abstractionist, but so was the new generation of 
American politicians the William Lowndes Yanceys, Robert 
Barnwell Rhetts, James Hammonds, the Chases, Sewards and 
Stevenses, Wilsons, and Sumners. So too were the American 
people they represented. Americans in the year 1850 were 
of two minds about themselves and their destiny on the 


one hand, they were seeming materialists concerned with 
wealth, power and progress; on the other, idealists perpetually 
dissatisfied with their limited achievements which they viewed 
as steppingstones toward a final spiritual goal. This goal was 
indicated however indistinctly in the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence. Rufus Choate might dismiss the Declaration as a 
collection of "sounding generalities," but for most Americans 
it embodied their ideal of the good society. The gross contra- 
diction of slavery in a nation which purported to believe in 
the equality of men was a fact with which they knew they 
must reckon eventually. Try as they might to hide it in Mani- 
fest Destiny and an expanding frontier, Americans returned 
to the slavery problem, first as a question of what Clay called 
"sentiment," but then, as the decade progressed, in the drama 
of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and John Brown's raid. By 
then abolitionist "sentiment" had become reality. 

For the moment, however, cries of "The Union is saved!" 
rang through Washington and echoed in New York, Balti- 
more, New Orleans, and St. Louis. Bonfires and cannon 
salutes welcomed Clay on his triumphal journey north to the 
Newport beaches while Douglas was left to do the real work 
of patching together the remnants of this Omnibus Bill. In 
Boston a thousand merchants publicly thanked Webster for 
recalling them to their duties under the Constitution. Doug- 
las promised never to give another speech on slavery and 
urged his colleagues to forget the subject. Horace Mann 
looked around at the remnants of the Free Soil contingent 
in Congress and sighed. Webster was damned by the aboli- 
tionists as a traitor and a turncoat, "the saddest sight in all 
the Western world." Fallen though he was, he was still power- 
ful enough to read out of the party those Free Soil Whigs 
who were "hostile to the just and constitutional rights of the 
South." In the South the Nashville Convention, called to 


protect Southern rights, failed to keep the spirit of secession 
alive. Supporters of the compromise closed ranks, and the 
Rhetts, McDonalds, Yanceys, and Quitmans were left to 
await another crisis. In Mississippi the radical Jefferson Davis 
was defeated for governor by the moderate Henry S. Foote; 
and the state convention declared that the right of secession 
was "utterly unsanctioned by the Federal Constitution." In 
South Carolina Yancey formed his Southern Rights Associ- 
ation without the help of the planters, who were no longer 
in the mood to feed the hunger of the fire-eaters. Thirteen 
cents a pound for cotton did not make for revolution. 

In New York, where Garrison held the annual meeting of 
the American Anti-Slavery Society in May, 1850, merchants 
had organized a Union Safety Committee to put down aboli- 
tionism and use their commercial ties to draw the Union 
back together. On his arrival Garrison found public opinion 
strongly against him. For weeks Bennett's Herald had ac- 
cused him of bringing the country to the brink of dissolution. 
On May 7 the Herald appealed to the "regulators" of New 
York opinion to see to it that Garrison did not misrepresent 
the views of the city. "The Union expects every man to do 
his duty," ran the editorial, "and duty to the Union, in the 
present crisis, points out to us that we should allow no more 
fuel to be placed upon the fire of abolitionism in our midst, 
when we can prevent it by sound reasoning and calm remon- 
strance." The Herald sounded a different note when on the 
day of the meeting it called Garrison the American Robes- 
pierre whose only object was to destroy, and called upon 
New Yorkers to destroy him first. 26 

The task of harassing the Garrisonians at the annual meet- 
ing fell to Captain Isaiah Rynders, a forty-six-year-old Tam- 
many ward-heeler, riverboat tramp, and weigher in the New 
York Customs House. The year before, Rynders had proved 


his talent at rabble-rousing by engineering the Astor Place 
riot against the English actor Macready. Later he had been 
arrested for the brutal beating of a vagrant in a New York 
hotel. He was just the man for the job Bennett had in mind. 

On the opening day of the meeting at the Broadway 
Tabernacle, Rynders planted his henchmen in the balcony to 
await his signal Anticipating trouble, Garrison had taken 
the precaution of inviting the chief of police to attend the 
sessions, and the chief had dispatched a precinct captain to 
keep order. To avoid notoriety Garrison had even exchanged 
his reformer's turned-down collar for a fashionable stand-up 
model. He opened the meeting by reading from the Scriptures 
a passage directed at the new Fugitive Slave Law. "Associate 
yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; 
gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. . . . They 
all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother 
with a net. . . . Hide the outcasts, betray not him that 
wandereth; let mine outcasts dwell with thee; be thou a covert 
to them from the face of the spoiler," 

Resigning the chair to Francis Jackson, he took the floor 
and began to deliver a cut-and-dried speech on the inconsist- 
ency of American religious faith with American practice. 
To illustrate his argument he singled out the Catholic Church 
as an example of pro-slavery feeling. At this point Rynders 
made his move. Were there not other churches just as guilty, 
he demanded? Garrison quietly admitted that there were and 
proceeded to name the Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, and 
Presbyterian Churches. Once again Rynders bellowed from 
his post in the organ loft. "Are you aware that the slaves in 
the South have their prayer-meetings in honor of Christ?" 

MR. GARRISON: Not a slaveholding or a slave-breeding Jesus. 
(Sensation.) The slaves believe in a Jesus that strikes off chains. 
In this country, Jesus has become obsolete. A profession in him is 


no longer a test. Who objects to his course in Judea? The old 
Pharisees are extinct, and may safely be denounced. Jesus is the 
most respectable person in the United States. (Great sensation, 
and murmurs of disapprobation.) Jesus sits in the President's 
chair in the United States. (A thrill of horror here seemed to run 
through the assembly.) Zachary Taylor sits there, which is the 
same thing, for he believes in Jesus. He believes in war, and the 
Jesus that 'gave the Mexicans hell.' (Sensation, uproar, and con- 
fusion.) 27 

Instantly Rynders and his gang rushed for the stairs and 
poured out on the stage. Rynders strode up to Garrison and 
waved his fist in his face. "I will not allow you to assail the 
President of the United States. You shan't do it." Calmly 
Garrison told Rynders that he must not interrupt. "We go 
upon the principle of hearing everybody. If you wish to 
speak, I will keep order, and you shall be heard." The up- 
roar grew louder. 

The Hutchinson family broke into a hymn, but Rynders 
and his men drowned them out with catcalls and whistles. 
Violence was narrowly averted when a hotheaded young 
abolitionist leaped to the platform and threatened to kill the 
first man who laid a hand on Garrison. Suddenly Francis 
Jackson offered Rynders the floor when Garrison had finished 
speaking, whereupon Garrison sat down and with a serene 
expression waited for Rynders to proceed. Rynders ranted 
and gesticulated, ranging up and down the aisles followed by 
his henchman "Professor Grant." In a wild and incoherent 
harangue the "Professor" undertook to prove that physiognom- 
ically Negroes were not men but animals* When he finished, 
Frederick Douglass stepped to the front of the platform and 
drew himself up to his full height for a reply. "The gentleman 
who has just spoken has undertaken to prove that the blacks 
are not human beings. He has examined our whole confor- 


mation. I cannot follow him in his argument. I will assist him 
in it, however. I offer myself for your examination. Am I a 
man?" Still Rynders would not give in. Over the laughter he 
shouted, "You are not a black man; you are only half a nig- 
ger" "Then," Douglass replied with a bow, "I am half- 
brother to Captain Rynders." 

Douglass finished by calling on the Reverend Samuel R. 
Ward, a Negro so black, Phillips said, that when he closed 
his eyes you could not see him. "Well, this is the original 
nigger!" Rynders jeered. Ward acknowledged the remark 
with a flourish. "Fve heard of the magnanimity of Captain 
Rynders, but the half has not been told me!" He went on 
to develop Douglass's theme, admitting the failure of the 
free Negro to establish himself in the North and arguing 
impressively for more help from the whites. When he sat 
down, Rynders and his company drifted off the stage and 
out of the hall. The society had won the day. 

The next day Rynders returned with reinforcements to 
finish the job while several police captains nonchalantly 
looked on. Neither Pillsbury nor Foster, both old hands at 
dealing with unruly demonstrations, were able to make them- 
selves heard above the din. Garrison refused to capitulate. 
He announced that free speech was still the rule and that all 
those who desired should receive a full and fair hearing. 
Rynders, realizing how narrowly he had escaped humiliation 
the day before, refused the invitation and stuck to his harass- 
ing tactics. Then Charles Burleigh cantered to the rostrum, 
his black beard and long curls streaming in the breeze. "Shave 
that tall Christ and make a wig for Garrison," Rynders 
shouted. Finally, Rynders and his gang, who knew that no 
one would stop them, took over the meeting. Marching to 
the platform and elbowing the abolitionists aside, they noisily 
voted a resolution that Garrison's "humanity-mongers" con- 


fine their work to the free Negroes in the North. "Thus 
closed anti-slavery free discussion in New York for 1850," 
noted Greeley's Tribune. 

"It was not an offence against the abolitionists that the 
mob committed when they broke up Garrison's meeting," 
commented the Philadelphia Ledger, "but an offence against 
the Constitution, against the Union, against the people, against 
popular rights and the great cause of human freedom/' 28 Nor 
was it a ghostly abstraction that Garrison faced in the Broad- 
way Tabernacle but a live issue that provoked hatred and 
violence. For a brief moment he had recognized the inherent 
tragedy of the slavery question when he found himself 
cornered by Rynders and his bullies, who had no intention 
of accepting his rules. Then, sensing the futility of free dis- 
cussion, he called on the police. 

The Great Slave Power Conspiracy 

DURING THE DECADE before the Civil War, Garrison's 
prestige rose as his personal influence began to decline. 
He achieved the respect he longed for but at the expense of 
command. "The period may have been when I was of some 
consequence to the anti-slavery movement," he told his 
followers in 1852, "but it is not now. The cause is safe in 
the hands of its friends." 1 These friends were more than 
ever a comfort to him. One of them, Francis Jackson, bought 
him a new house in Dix Place; another invited him to the 
Town and Country Club; others induced him to publish 
a volume of speeches and poems to establish himself as a 
man of letters. Each year his circle of admirers widened. 
At a testimonial dinner for John P. Hale he sat with Sumner, 
Wilson, Horace Mann, Palfrey, and Richard Henry Dana, 
and praised the politician whom five years ago he had dis- 
missed as half an abolitionist. Suddenly he became one of the 
most popular lecturers on the anti-slavery circuit. Those 
who used to come to hear the "monster" now gathered to 
listen to a "marvellous proper man." His friends noted with 
relief the passing of the prejudice against him. "He speaks 
as one having authority & office," Miller McKim wrote to 
Sarah Pugh. " . , He strikes a chord which is pure & vibrant, 
the common people always hear him gladly. All classes are 


drawn toward him; the bad respect & the good love him." 2 
He was acutely conscious of this new respect and worried 
lest, "ill-judged and unfairly estimated," he fail to exploit 
it. He avoided hostile audiences that in the old days he 
would have enjoyed baiting. Now he asked whether a town 
was "safe" for abolition before agreeing to speak there, not 
because he was afraid of a few brickbats but because he hated 
to risk his reputation and waste precious time. As he ap- 
proached fifty he grew closer to his family and preferred 
the company of his children to barnstorming around the 
countryside with Pillsbury and Foster. Although he was in 
great demand as a lecturer and spoke on the average of once 
a week to anti-slavery audiences in the state, he could hardly 
wait to get back to Helen and the children. He welcomed the 
demands that Fanny and the boys made on him, whether it 
was a school lesson to be prepared or a game of hide-and-seek. 
Gradually he was acquiring all the comfortable habits and the 
outlook of middle-aged respectability. 

Indeed, the whole abolitionist enterprise, while hardly 
popular, enjoyed a new regard now that the Boston clique 
had succeeded in raising its social tone. Phillips and Quincy 
were chiefly responsible for the atmospheric change in Bos- 
ton, Phillips by recruiting new talent among the old families, 
and Quincy by weeding out the more unkempt of the Gar- 
risonians. Apostles like Charles Burleigh who dramatized 
their devotion to Christ by lecturing in full beard and flowing 
robes were relegated by Quincy's edict to those parts of the 
state which were least civilized. Henceforth, Quincy ordered, 
agents should appear decently bathed and clothed; the cause 
of the slave was not to be advanced by apostolic dirt. "1 should 
prefer not to have hair in my diocese," he instructed the 
General Agent. 3 In place of beards and cranks, perfectionists 
and millenarians, there appeared early in the Fifties a group 


of new men, younger abolitionists drawn to the cause less by 
religious zeal than by their hatred of the Fugitive Slave Act 
Thomas Higginson from Newburyport, Dr. Henry Bow- 
ditch, James Freeman Clarke and Charles Stearns. These re- 
cruits were moved by Phillips's performances and the sermons 
of Parker to identify themselves openly with the abolitionists. 
They were not politicians, though they knew and admired 
the Young Whigs, and they were inclined to be impatient 
with Garrison's nonresistance scruples. Their appearance was 
proof of the increased moral dimensions of the slavery crisis. 

There were still many New Englanders who remained 
inveterate haters of Garrison. The Boston Irish never forgave 
him for his savage attack on their idol Father Mathew, who 
visited the United States in 1849. Father Mathew, the Apostle 
of Temperance, was a reform priest who had signed the 
Irish Appeal back in 1841 but whose primary interest was 
abolishing Irish whiskey. Arrived in Boston on his temperance 
mission, he ran straight into an abolitionist trap set by Garri- 
son, who remembered his former services to anti-slavery and 
wanted to see whether he could work a miracle upon Irish 
opinion in Boston. In an interview, an account of which 
Garrison published in his paper, Father Mathew declined to 
take part in abolitionist meetings or to indulge in any pro- 
nouncements that might jeopardize the cause of temperance. 
The Liberator pursued him on his tour throughout the 
country, giving readers accounts of his "perfidy 77 and "apos- 
tasy." The Catholic press retorted with the familiar charge 
of infidelity, and Garrison shifted his sights from the Irish 
priest to Catholic conservatism. Meanwhile Father Mathew 
completed his tour of the country and returned to Ireland 
with six hundred thousand temperance pledges and happy 
memories of the "pride and glory 77 of the United States. 4 

For all his censures of Catholicism, Garrison was no bigot. 


Like most of his generation of reformers he believed the 
dome of St. Peter's too heavy, and he liked to exhibit Catho- 
lic opposition to anti-slavery as proof of what Romanism was 
in the nineteenth century and what the liberties of Ameri- 
cans would become by its prevalence. He spoke of "the 
extreme heresy of Rome which has stultified more intellects 
and ruined more souls than any other," but in the same 
breath added that all churches were "conventional, mechan- 
ical, transient, and necessarily imperfect like other organiza- 
tions." 5 He judged the Catholic Church precisely as he did the 
various Protestant denominations and found them all guilty 
of pretensions to infallibility. Catholicism had its single Pope, 
Protestantism its multitude of petty popes. Both violated 
the spirit of Christianity by exploiting the depravity of the 
human heart. His anti-Catholic prejudice inherited from a 
Baptist childhood was swallowed in perfectionism. With the 
triumph of eternal life would come the destruction of both 
the Catholic hierarchy and all earthly institutions. He had 
nothing but contempt for the nativism of the Know-Nothings 
with their "perfectly diabolical" views and "monstrous" as- 
sumption that Protestant Anglo-Saxons were the rightful 
owners of the United States. 6 He saw the day corning when 
both the subtlety of the Jesuits and the nativist repudiation 
of Christianity would die out. 

The same optimism tinged his views of race relations. Be- 
cause he felt no racial prejudice himself, he believed that the 
time was not far off when it would be classed with hanging 
witches as a barbaric practice not worthy of enlightened 
Christians. His views on labor the "perishing classes" he 
continued to call them showed the same unchecked as- 
surance. He criticized New England industrialists who kept 
their labor force at subsistence level, and demanded "more 
systematic and energetic measures adopted to rescue those 


already sinking in the mire and filth of poverty and crime, 
and to prevent others being swept into the same vortex, 
whose condition and tendencies are hurrying them thither." 7 
On the other hand, he admitted that he had no plan himself 
and told the American workingmen that for the present they 
would have to rely on the "generous impulses" of their 
betters. His belief that free society rested on an intelligent 
workingclass was undercut by his assumption that tech- 
nology and unrestrained competition would automatically 
create one. His economic views tended to support the very 
doctrine of progress which his moral radicalism protested 
so vigorously. Somehow his dream of the destruction of 
American institutions stopped short of industrial capitalism. 

Garrison's failure to see the inconsistencies of private- 
profit perfectionism did not prevent him from exposing the 
hollow patriotism of mid-century America in the Kossuth 
affair. In December, 1851, Louis Kossuth, already the toast 
of liberal Europe and a romantic exile par excellence, pre- 
pared the United States for his debut by sending ahead a 
manifesto which proclaimed his complete neutrality on the 
"domestic issue" of slavery and requested his friends to 
do nothing that might in any way embarrass the cause of 
Hungarian freedom. This announcement Garrison inter- 
preted as a complete surrender to the slavocracy. "He means 
to be deaf, dumb, and blind, in regard to it! Like the recreant 
Father MATHEW, to subserve his own purpose, and to secure 
the favor of a slaveholding and slave-breeding people, he 
skulks he dodges he plays fast and loose he refuses to 
see a stain on the American character, any inconsistency 
in pretending to adore liberty and at the same time, multiply- 
ing human beings for the auction block and the slave 
shambles." 8 

In eacposing Kossuth's nationalist pretensions Garrison un- 


covered a fundamental weakness in American democratic 
thought. Two years earlier at the height of the reaction in 
Europe he had written an editorial comparing Kossuth and 
Jesus. Admitting that Kossuth was a "sublime specimen' 7 of 
patriotism, he nevertheless questioned the scope of his vision. 
"He is a Hungarian, as Washington was an American. His 
country is bounded by a few degrees of latitude and longi- 
tude, and covers a surface of some thousands of square miles." 
Kossuth was strictly national, concerned solely with the 
independence of Hungary, for which he was willing to dis- 
regard "all the obligations of morality." Garrison never 
read the Hungarian Declaration of Independence and was 
not aware that Kossuth's Magyar ideals did not extend to 
Croats and Slavs. The best expose of Hungarian pretensions 
to American sympathy were two articles of Francis Bowen's 
in the North American Review which identified the am- 
biguous legacy of the American Declaration of Independence 
and showed how Kossuth's revolution qualified on the score 
of self-determination but, in denying freedom to minority 
groups, failed the test of civil rights. 10 Garrison only sensed 
what Bowen knew for a fact, that national unity and civil 
rights were not always compatible. In his groping way he 
had discovered the limits of nationalism and the difficulties of 
harmonizing individual liberty and national self-determina- 

All of Garrison's reform interests suffered from his in- 
ability to bring to them a coherent philosophy. His concern 
with woman's rights was at best sporadic. He supported the 
Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and attended the first 
woman's rights convention in Massachusetts at Worcester 
in 1850. His nonvoting perfectionism, however, made him 
something less than an enthusiastic supporter of the franchise 
for women. "I want the women to have the right to vote, and 


I call upon them to demand it perseveringly until they possess 
it. When they have obtained it, it will be for them to say 
whether they will exercise it or not." 11 Elizabeth Cady 
Stanton and Susan B. Anthony might have been pardoned 
for believing that the advancement of women in America 
was a matter best left to themselves. 

As he grew older he became fascinated with the claims 
of spiritualism and avidly followed the debate over "spiritual 
manifestations," hoping to find proof of their reality. One 
evening he attended a seance held by Leah Brown, one of 
the Fox Sisters, and watched while tables were overturned, 
chairs flung across the room, and even heard the spirit of 
Jesse Hutchinson rap out anti-slavery hymn tunes on the 
table. He was convinced that no satisfactory answer to the 
occult powers of mediums had been established by their 
critics. "If, here and there, an individual has succeeded in 
imitating certain sounds that are made, and imposing on the 
credulity of those present, it is only as genuine coin is often 
so ingeniously counterfeited as to make it difficult for even 
the money-changer himself to detect the difference; it does 
not touch one of a thousand cases where the parties have been 
above reproach and beyond suspicion." 12 Nevertheless, he 
was troubled by the fact that none of the messages from the 
distinguished inhabitants of the spirit world bore the slightest 
resemblance to their earthly personalities. One message from 
Nathaniel Rogers even asked forgiveness for quarreling with 
him while in the flesh! 

Less confusing was the "Harmonial Philosophy" of Andrew 
Jackson Davis, whose "psychometric examination" of public 
men also drew on occult powers. By examining a lock of 
Garrison's hair (more would have been difficult to find) Davis 
was able to throw his mind into a clairvoyant state in which 


his subject's true character appeared clearly. He found that 
Garrison was possessed of a physical system "evenly balanced 
and well developed" and a temperament "peculiarly domes- 
tic and social . . . His is a high order of intellect, but not the 
highest. It is more than usually well arranged and evenly 
balanced; superior in this particular to most public and 
literary men." 13 Some minds, Davis concluded, were mere 
receptacles, but here was a source. 

That Garrison was a source of the myth of the Great 
Slave Power Conspiracy there can be no doubt. The political 
conflicts of the Fifties came in large part from the growing 
conviction in the North that slavery menaced free society. 
Ever since he joined Lundy, Garrison had identified anti- 
slavery with civil liberties, which he defined as "natural 
rights" constituting a body of "higher law." Twenty-five 
years of agitation had failed to endow his abstractions with 
the breath of life, but after 1850 events were combining 
to give his doctrine of secession an artificial life. 

The Northern disunionists [Garrison wrote in 1852], affirm that 
every human being has an inalienable right to liberty; conse- 
quently, that no man can be held in slavery without guilt; and, 
theref ore, that no truce is to be made with the slaveholder. They 
declare slavery to be morally and politically wrong, and its ex- 
tinction essential to the general welfare; hence, that neither sanc- 
tion nor toleration is to be extended to it They are not less 
tenacious, not less inexorable, and certainly not less consistent, 
than the Southern disunionists. The issue, therefore, which these 
parties make, separates them as widely from each other as heaven 
from hell: do such "extremes' meet? What is there extreme about 
it, absurdly? If the Lord be God, serve Mm; if Baal, then serve 
him.' Is it a case for conciliation, for 'truck and dicker/ for in- 
sisting upon a quid pro quo? To yield anything, on either side, 
is to yield everything, 14 


The continuing crisis after 1850 made these words ring true. 

The Fugitive Slave Law raised the curtain on a moral 
drama that ended in civil war. Only gradually did the slavery 
issue emerge as its tragic theme, and even then it often wore 
the mask of political and economic interests. Nor can it 
be said that the majority of the people in the North ever 
confronted it squarely until they were forced to, but chose 
instead to view it obliquely as a territorial problem. Their 
consciences, as Garrison reminded them, were bounded by 
the 3 6 30' parallel. Still, the moral question was omnipresent. 
It arose in many different forms, only partly obscured by 
available issues land policy, tariffs, territorial regulations 
but giving the political conflicts of the decade their peculiar 
intensity. Looked at in one way, the return of a few hundred 
escaped slaves was not worth a war, and it may have seemed 
that despite the obstructionist tactics of the anti-slavery party, 
a solution might have been found short of violence. For those 
Bostonians, however, who lined the streets to watch Anthony 
Burns march back to slavery, or the citizens of Syracuse 
who rescued the Negro Jerry and then defied the authorities, 
the Fugitive Slave Law came as a fulfillment of abolitionist 
prophecy. "I respect the Anti-slavery society," Emerson 
wrote in the wake of the rescues. "It is the Cassandra that has 
foretold all that has befallen, fact for fact, years ago." 

A morality play is a drama of abstractions, and it was 
with abstractions that Americans increasingly concerned 
themselves as the decade moved forward, just as in the case 
of the Fugitive Slave Law the North acted out of moral 
revulsion and the South out of righteous determination. The 
country was entering a labyrinth from which there was no 
sure avenue of escape. All this Garrison had foretold years 

The Compromise of 1850 brought Garrison's appeal to the 


law of nature to the floor of Congress. In his reply to Web- 
ster's Seventh of March speech, Seward gave the "higher law" 
doctrine its classic expression. "But there is a higher law 
than the Constitution," he told Webster, "which regulates 
our authority over the domain, and devotes it to the same 
noble purposes." The territory of the United States was 
part of the common heritage of mankind, and the people 
residing there were stewards of God entrusted with the 
enforcement of higher law. The South could no more prevent 
the discussion of slavery than it could stop the onrush of 
progress. The agitation against slavery would not stop, 
Seward told his Southern colleagues, not even war could 
prevent it. "It will go on until you shall terminate it in the 
only way in which any State or nation ever terminated it 
by yielding to it yielding in your own time, and in your 
own manner, indeed, but nevertheless yielding to the progress 
of emancipation." 

After the Compromise of 1850 it was the North which 
appeared to be bending to the will of the South by yielding 
to the Fugitive Slave Law. This law brought the civil rights 
issue into sharper focus than at any time since the battle 
over petitions. By giving the slaveholder the legal right to 
recover his property in any state in the Union, it seemed 
clear proof of Southern intention to spread slavery through- 
out the country by first establishing the right to recapture 
slaves, then the right to bring them into the free states and 
hold them there. It was a fact that only a relative handful 
of escaped slaves were ever returned under the new law. 
It was also true that both sections exaggerated the sins of 
the other, the North accusing the slaveowners of devilish 
designs on the free Negroes, and Southerners accusing North- 
ern states of obstructing justice. Yet it was a poor kind of 
justice that could be had under a law which denied trial by 


jury and made the word of the master sufficient to establish 

Boston abolitionists met the law with a new theory of 
nullification and a brand of civil disobedience that went far 
beyond Garrison's nonresistance creed. Theodore Parker told 
his congregation at the Melodeon that when governments 
perverted their functions and enacted wickedness, there was 
no law left but natural justice. It was the function of con- 
science to discover to men the moral law of God. "Having 
determined what is absolutely right, by the conscience of 
God, or at least relatively right, according to my conscience 
to-day, then it becomes my duty to keep it. I owe it to God 
to obey His law, or what I deem His law; that is my duty. 
... I owe entire allegiance to God." 15 Garrison went to 
hear Parker's opinions but heard instead his own arguments, 
polished a little and tightened, but the same old arguments 
for the ultimate authority of conscience. Parker did more 
than preach; he helped organize Boston's Vigilance Com- 
mittee, elected at a protest meeting at Faneuil Hall. The 
purpose of the Vigilance Committee was to protect fugitives 
and the colored inhabitants of Boston and vicinity from any 
persons acting under the law. Once again the city witnessed 
a mob of gentlemen of property and wealth but this time 
on the side of anti-slavery. The directorate included Phillips, 
Samuel Gridley Howe, Tom Higginson, Ellis Gray Loring, 
Henry Bowditch, Charles Ellis, and the Negro lawyer Lewis 
Hayden. Garrison, whose nonresistance opinions were widely 
known, was purposely left off the committee. 

At first the Vigilance Committee occupied itself with 
printing and distributing Parker's handbills which warned 
the Negroes of Boston against slave-hunters, but soon it had 
a chance to act. In 1848 William and Ellen Craft, two 
Georgia slaves, had escaped North by a most ingenious 


rase. Ellen, who was light-skinned, bandaged her face and 
passed as a young man journeying to Philadelphia for medical 
consultation attended by a manservant. From Charleston the 
Crafts traveled to Richmond, from there to Baltimore, 
Philadelphia, and finally Boston, where the Boston abolition- 
ists heralded the arrival of the courageous couple and publi- 
cized their daring escape. They had lived unmolested in the 
city for nearly two years when one evening in October, 

1850, Parker came home to find Henry Bowditch waiting 
with the news that two slave-catchers from Georgia were 
in town looking for the Crafts. The committee sprang into 
action. They spirited William off to Lewis Hayden's house 
and provided him with a pistol. Parker himself drove Ellen 
to Ellis Gray Loring's home in Brookline, where she re- 
mained until the committee deemed it safe for her to return 
to the city. For another week Parker kept her at his place, 
writing his sermons, he said, with a brace of loaded pistols 
before him. Then he marched down to the United States 
Hotel, where the unwelcome guests were staying* While his 
Vigilance Committee lounged ominously in the lobby and up 
the staircase, Parker held a conference with the two slave- 
catchers. "I told them that they were not safe another night," 
Parker boasted. "I had stood between them and violence 
once, I would not promise to do it again. They were con- 
siderably frightened." 16 The agents left town on the next 

The Vigilance Committee took a long step toward mob rule 
in the case of "Shadrach," a waiter at the Cornhill Coffee 
House. Frederic Wilkins, or Jenkins, who had acquired the 
name Shadrach, was seized on the morning of February 18, 

1851, by the United States marshal and lodged in the Court 
House under special custody. As soon as the Vigilance Com- 
mittee heard of the arrest, Richard Henry Dana hurried to 


Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw, only to be told that the disposition 
of a fugitive slave was too frivolous a matter for a writ of habeas 
corpus. In the meantime Lewis Hayden was taking matters 
into his own hands. He rounded up twenty men from "Nigger 
Hill" behind the State House and marched into the Court 
House and straight into the courtroom with his guard. Not 
a soul moved to stop them as they seized Shadrach, nearly 
tearing his clothes off his back in the process, and rushed 
him down the stairs "like a black squall" into a waiting 
carriage that drove him to Cambridge, the first stop on 
the northwest road to Concord, Leominster, Vermont, and 
finally Canada. The rescue of Shadrach went far beyond the 
threat of violence. Here was open defiance of the Fugitive 
Slave Law. From Washington came immediate orders to 
prosecute Hayden and the rest of the vigilantes three Ne- 
groes and two white men. The case ended in a mistrial when 
a single juror stubbornly held out for acquittal. A year or 
so later Dana was approached by a quiet, plain-looking man 
who asked if he remembered him. 

"Yes," Dana replied quickly. "You were the twelfth 
juror in Shadrach's case." 

"That's right!" came the rejoinder. "I was the twelfth 
juror in that case, and I was the man who drove Shadrach 
over the line." 17 

Garrison's nonresistance scruples did not prevent him from 
rejoicing over the rescue of Shadrach. "Thank God Shad- 
rach is free! and not only free but safe under the banner of 
England." A quick rush on the Court House, nobody hurt, 
nobody wronged, simply a sudden transformation of a slave 
into a free man "conducted to a spot whereon he can glorify 
God in his body and spirit, which are his." Millard Fillmore 
might issue proclamations and Henry Clay propose to in- 
vestigate everyone who dared peep or mutter against the 


law, but the "poor, hunted, entrapped fugitive slave" had been 
freed! 18 Before Garrison could ponder the difficulties of 
reconciling lawbreaking and nonresistance, the Sims case 
broke, and this time the Vigilance Committee lost. 

Thomas Sims, a boy of seventeen, was apprehended on 
April 3, 1851, and charged with theft of the clothes he wore 
and with being a fugitive slave from Georgia. His lawyers, 
the intrepid Dana, Samuel Sewall and the Democratic poli- 
tician Robert Rantoul, were as able counsel as the city of- 
fered. They presented Judge Shaw with a writ of habeas 
corpus which he refused to honor, and then prepared to fight 
a delaying action. Thomas Higginson, the young firebrand 
from Newburyport, who had other ideas, rushed down to 
the city to find the Vigilance Committee assembled at the 
Liberator office discussing the merits of various rescue schemes 
while Garrison sat silently composing an editorial. The com- 
mittee could agree on no workable plan, and the members 
adjourned tired and discouraged to join the small crowd 
of demonstrators outside the Court House. That evening 
Higginson concocted a harebrained plan whereby on a given 
signal Sims would leap out of the upper-story window and 
into a pile of mattresses which would be rushed out from a 
nearby alley; but Sims's jailers soon dashed his hopes for a 
rescue a la Dumas by putting bars on the windows overnight. 
At three o'clock in the morning of the thirteenth, word 
reached the committee that Sims was being removed to a 
coastal vessel in Boston Harbor. Parker, Phillips, Bowditch, 
Channing and the others had just time to improvise a coffin 
draped in black and form a death watch behind the proces- 
sion of marshals escorting Sims. Garrison was there praying 
with the rest for the deliverance of the fugitive. But Sims 
was not to be delivered. Three times the marshal had tried 
to buy him back, and three times Sims's owner had refused. 


There was a lot more than the freedom of one Negro at 
stake slaveowners wanted bodily proof of their victory- 
over the State of Garrison. 

In Syracuse later that year the abolitionists had their re- 
venge when a mob overpowered the guard, snatched the 
Negro "J eri y" and bustled him off to Canada. The Jerry 
rescue also brought indictments eighteen in all were ar- 
raigned, among them Samuel J. May and Gerrit Smith. 
May's nonresistance faith had broken under the strain, and 
he wrote to Garrison to tell him so. "Perhaps you will think 
that I go too far in enjoining it upon all men to act against 
the Fugitive Slave Law as they conscientiously believe to be 
right, even if it be to fight for the rescue of its victims. But 
I know not what counsel to give them. And let me confess to 
you, that when I saw poor Jerry in the hands of the official 
kidnappers, I could not preach non-resistance very earnestly 
to the crowd who were clamoring for his release. And when 
I found that he had been rescued without serious harm to any 
one, I was as uproarious as any one in my joy." 19 May told 
Garrison that if the abolitionists did not kill the infernal law, 
it would kill them, and that when it came to the death- 
grapple, no man who believed in freedom could disarm him- 
self. Garrison was no longer sure. 

He replied tentatively to the vigilantes in a long review of 
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tonfs Cabin, a critique that 
betrayed both a failure of imagination and a confused view 
of the nonresistance question. He had nothing but praise for 
Mrs. Stowe's powers of characterization, which, he con- 
fessed, set his nerves trembling and made his heart "grow 
liquid as water/' He was particularly moved by the figure 
of Uncle Tom, who personified the triumph of Christian 
nonresistance. "No insult, no outrage, no suffering, could 
ruffle the Christlike meekness of his spirit, or shake the stead- 


fastness of his faith." 20 That the slaves ought to wait patiently 
for a peaceful deliverance and abstain from all insurrectionary 
movements went without saying, but what of those white 
men who were attempting to free them? In his mind a change 
in complexion did not materially alter the case. Violence 
and the love of Christ were still irreconcilable, and theoreti- 
cally no provocation whatever could justify a resort to force. 
He was too skilled an agitator, however, not to recognize the 
possibilities of a threatened slave insurrection; and once again 
he reminded Southern whites that with their revolutionary 
heritage they could not deny the right of resistance to their 
slaves. If this warning weakened the fiber of Christian pa- 
cificism, so did his evasions of the question of disobeying the 
Fugitive Slave Act. "A great deal is said at the present time 
and perhaps not too much, in regard to the Fugitive Slave 
Law," he told an audience of Pennsylvania Quakers. "Many 
persons glory in their hostility to it, and upon this capital 
they set up an anti-slavery reputation. But opposition to that 
law is no proof in itself of anti-slavery fidelity. That law is 
merely incidental to slavery, and there is no merit in opposi- 
tion which extends no further than to its provisions. Our war- 
fare is not against slavehunting alone, but against the existence 
of slavery." 21 Yet sooner or later, as May had warned, he 
would have to face the issue of resistance to government and 
law, if not over the question of returning escaped slaves, 
then over the extension of slavery into the territories* 

On May 22, 1854, the Nebraska Act was passed "against 
the strongest possible remonstrances," Garrison wrote, 
"against the laws of God and the rights of universal man 
in subversion of plighted faith, in utter disregard of the 
scorn of the world, and for purposes as diabolical as can 
be conceived of or consummated here on earth." 22 The law 
was based on three principles: popular sovereignty, the right 


of appeal to the Supreme Court, and repeal of the Missouri 
Compromise. Stephen Douglas, the architect of the law, may 
have believed that geography and climate closed Kansas and 
Nebraska to slavery, and he might argue that it was the 
North, not the South, which first broke the Missouri Compro- 
mise. None of these explanations, not even his brilliant de- 
fense of the bill against the partisan attacks of Seward and 
Chase, convinced Northerners of his realism or his honesty. 
In private Douglas called slavery "a curse beyond computa- 
tion to both black and white," but that was not what his bill 
said. His bill declared that the Missouri Compromise violated 
the principle of Congressional nonintervention with slavery 
and was therefore "inoperative and void." Douglas admitted 
that his philosophy was opportunistic and explained to his 
supporters that he must either champion the policy of his 
party "or forfeit forever all that I have fought for." 23 Who 
was he to oppose his individual judgment against the combined 
wisdom of a great party? Douglas's doctrine of popular 
sovereignty was a confession of moral bankruptcy: it gave 
the people in the territories the power to decide the slavery 
question while it denied that there were any principles 
needed to guide them in their choice. His Nebraska Act 
enshrined the sovereignty of the people at the expense of 
human rights. It also made more abolitionists overnight than 
Garrison had in twenty years. 

The cost of the Nebraska Act to the Democratic Party 
proved considerable. Their majority of eighty-four in the 
House fell to a minority of seventy-five; of the forty-two 
Northern Democrats who had voted for the bill, only seven 
were re-elected. Illinois sent Lymati Trumbull, an anti- 
slavery Whig, to join Douglas in the Senate. The National 
Intelligencer estimated that the party's loss in popular votes 
neared 350,000. This, however, was not aH gain for anti- 


slavery, for the most remarkable aspect of the 1854 elections 
was the vote polled by the American Party. In Massachusetts, 
Henry Wilson was forced to run on the nativist ticket, 
and in New York the Know-Nothings overwhelmed the 
abolitionists. Seward was unavailable to head a new party; 
Chase was available but not well enough known in the North- 
east; Sumner was able, willing and unpopular; Lincoln was 
only a rising figure in Illinois politics. "All the Whigs ex- 
pressed disapproval of the Nebraska Bill, but take no action," 
Dana commented sadly. "The Democrats differ and arc 
paralyzed by the Executive. . . . We can have no effectual 
vent for opinion. This depresses and mortifies us to the ex- 
treme." The Republican convention at Ripon was still two 
years away. 

Garrison clung tenaciously to his refusal to acknowledge 
political action. His conclusions, given his premises, were 
logical if not encouraging. In his view, only the strictest of 
abolitionists could qualify for office, and such men would 
never be elected. William GoodelFs candidacy for the Presi- 
dency in the campaign of 1852 he called "a farce in one act." 
His mood at the time of the passing of the Nebraska Act was 
summarized in his resolution offered to the annual meeting 
of the American Society declaring that "the one great issue 
to be made with the Slave Power, is, THE DISSOLUTION OF 


The week of May 24, 1854, was anniversary week, when 
all the benevolent societies as well as the Massachusetts Anti- 
Slavery Society and the Woman's Rights conventioneers 
crowded into Boston. On the evening of the twenty-fourth, 
Anthony Burns, a Negro employee of a Brattle Street clothing 
store owner, was seized on his way home from work and 
arrested on a trumped-up robbery charge. Taken to the 
Court House, he was accused of being an escaped slave and 


arrested on a fugitive slave warrant issued by United States 
Commissioner Edward G. Loring. 

That evening Burns was visited in his cell by Colonel 
Charles F. Suttle of Alexandria, Virginia, his former master, 
and William Brent, the colonel's agent. The two men extracted 
a confession from Burns, and when Parker and Phillips 
visited him the following morning, he told them of his dam- 
aging admission. "I shall have to go back," he sighed. "Mr. 
Suttle knows me Brent knows me. If I must go back, I 
want to go back as easy as I can." His counsel Dana once 
more, along with the able Negro lawyer Robert Morris 
secured a postponement, but they knew that the legal case 
was hopeless. The disposition of Burns would rest with the 
citizens of Boston. Two plans were now set in motion, the 
first a protest meeting at Faneuil Hall, the second a wild and 
dangerous plan of Higginson's to use the momentum of the 
meeting to effect a rescue. Let everything be made ready, he 
explained, by posting a body of men outside the Court House. 
Then send some loud-voiced speaker preferably Phillips 
to the Faneuil Hall meeting and at the right moment let 
him give the word that a mob was already attacking the 
Court House and send the crowd pouring into Court Square 
to bring out Burns. 

Higginson's scheme failed only because of faulty timing. 
He and his followers, armed with axes and meat cleavers, 
rushed the door of the Court House while the crowd was 
still listening to Phillips in Faneuil Hall They were met by 
fifty of the marshal's men, one of whom was killed in the 
rush. Higginson was wounded on the chin, and, dripping with 
blood, he fell back with his men. They were still milling 
around in front of the building when the mob arrived from 
Faneuil Hall Among the new arrivals was Bronson Alcott, 
who strolled up to Higginson and with orphic innocence 


asked, "Why are we not within?" Informed that the first 
attack had failed, Alcott nodded, turned, and marched slowly 
up the steps, paused while bullets whistled past his head, and 
then, realizing that no one had followed him, calmly de- 
scended. Finally reinforcements from the police arrived and 
the rescuers wandered off . 

Abolitionist arrangements to buy Burns's freedom were 
broken off when District Attorney Benjamin Franklin Hallett 
intervened, and after a full week's deliberation Commissioner 
Loring pronounced his verdict for Suttle. Then came a wire 
from President Pierce authorizing Hallett to incur any ex- 
pense in executing the law. While surly crowds hooted and 
jeered, police and militia cleared the streets from the Court 
House to Long Wharf, where a revenue cutter waited to 
carry the fugitive back to Virginia. The marshal's posse, led 
by an artillery battalion and a platoon of United States 
Marines and followed by mounted dragoons and lancers, 
marched Burns between rows of special police who held back 
the fifty thousand spectators. As Burns remarked to the sheriff, 
"There was lots of folks to see a colored man walk down the 

Phillips, Parker and Higginson were indicted, but after 
months of legal skirmishing the case was dropped. Burns, who 
had been sold on the return voyage, was purchased from his 
new master by the Boston philanthropists and packed off to 
Oberlin to study for the ministry. Commissioner Loring, 
Judge of Probate and lecturer at the Harvard Law School, 
did not fare so well The women of Woburn sent him thirty 
pieces of silver, his students refused to attend his lectures, 
the Board of Overseers at Harvard declined to reappoint him, 
and a petition with twelve thousand signatures demanded 
his removal from office. He was finally removed by the 
legislature in 1858 and given an appointment by Buchanan. 


Garrison added the final touch to the case of Anthony 
Burns. At an open-air celebration of the Fourth of July in 
Framingham Grove he solemnized the end of the Union in 
a religious rite. First he read the usual passage from the 
Scriptures. After laying his Bible down he spoke to the 
crowd in measured and familiar tones, comparing the Decla- 
ration of Independence with the verdict in the Burns case. 
Then, as a minister might announce the taking of the sacra- 
ment, he told his listeners that he would now perform an 
action which would be the testimony of his soul. Slowly he 
lighted a candle on the table before him, and, picking up a 
copy of the Fugitive Slave Law, touched a corner of it to 
the flame and held it aloft, intoning the words "And let the 
people say, Amen." "Amen," echoed the congregation. Next 
he burned Loring's decision and Judge Curtis's charge to 
the jury. Each time he repeated the incantatory phrase, and 
each time his followers murmured the response. Finally, he 
raised a copy of the "covenant with death," the United 
States Constitution itself, and as it burst into flames pro- 
nounced judgment. "So perish all compromises with tyranny! 
And let the people say, Amen! " 

As the communicants repeated the word for the last time, 
he stood before them arms extended. The verdict had been 
pronounced, he was finished. It was at once the most cal- 
culated and the most dramatic action of his life, more im- 
pressive even than Burns's march through the city, more 
electrifying than Phillips's speech in Faneuil Hall. His faithful 
were pathetically few, but that did not matter any more. 
Now the whole country would know of the burning of their 


ON THE EVE of the Presidential election of 1856 Horace 
Greeley published an open letter to "W. L. Garrison" 
in the Tribune demanding to know his views of the three 
candidates. Greeley had followed Garrison's career from the 
beginning and thought he knew the extent of his "no-govern- 
ment" heresies. He assumed as a matter of course that the 
Liberator would be hostile to John C. Fremont as well as to 
Buchanan and Millard Fillmore, that is, until he read an 
editorial of Garrison's that changed his mind. "As against 
Buchanan and Fillmore," Garrison had written, "it seems to 
us the sympathies and best wishes of every enlightened 
friend of freedom must be on the side of Fr6mont; so that 
if there were no moral barrier to our voting, and we had a 
million votes to bestow, we should cast them all for the 
Republican candidate." 1 

Now Greeley knew an endorsement when he saw one, 
and he asked Garrison if he meant what he said in announcing 
his preference for Fremont and claiming to speak for the 
"universal feeling" of the ultra-abolitionists. In his reply Garri- 
son explained that he favored the Pathfinder because Fr6mont 
was "for the non-extension of slavery, in common with the 
great body of the people of the North." 2 His remark signaled 
a retreat from perfectionism and nonresistance, a strategic 


withdrawal that ended in a rout four years later when he and 
his followers decided to prevent the national division they 
had long predicted. 

By all rights Garrison should have treated Republicans to 
the same scorn he had bestowed on the Free Soilers and the 
Liberty Party. He did criticize their ideas as "feeble and 
indefinite" and their stand on slavery as "partial, one-sided, 
geographical," but these shortcomings he now forgave in 
the hope that new leadership would strengthen the party's 
moral fiber. 3 "In general intelligence, virtuous character, 
humane sentiment, and patriotic feeling- as well as in the 
object it is seeking to accomplish it is incomparably better 
than the other rival parties; and its success, as against those 
parties, will be a cheering sign of the times." 4 His gradual 
drift from principles to personalities and a growing inclina- 
tion to make political choices while eschewing politics began 
to confuse his followers and eventually drove them into the 
Republican camp carrying with them, so they thought, their 
leader's blessing. 

Wendell Phillips remained loyal to moral suasion, but for 
every Phillips there were ten Sumners and Wilsons determined 
to build their careers on an anti-slavery platform. Garrison 
retained the loyalty of a few partisans whom he praised for 
having "the same estimate of men and institutions" as he 
did, but their number grew less each year and their usefulness 
questionable. He had demanded conformity too long to 
change now: his disciples were still expected to study the 
gospel according to Saint Liberator. The instincts of a patriar- 
chal despot continued to make cooperation with him hazard- 
ous and usually impossible. Ten years after his quarrel with 
Frederick Douglass he still refused to appear on the plat- 
form with him. Gerrit Smith, a perennial victim of his wrath, 
complained more than once of Garrison's rudeness to a 


man who had praised him at home and abroad. But Garrison 
had a long memory for slights and snubs. Smith, he recalled, 
had supported both Lewis Tappan and his clique and 
Douglass himself. "I must say/' he sniffed, a he has a singular 
method of praising and vindicating me." 5 No man could 
endorse "malignant enemies" and retain the respect of Wil- 
liam Lloyd Garrison! 

The old Garrisonians were dying off Ellis Gray Loring, 
Charles Hovey, Arnold Buffum, and Effingham Capron, 
Hovey, a twenty-year veteran, left a forty-thousand-dollar 
trust fund that kept the destitute state society alive until 
the war. In 1857 Birney died, and Garrison grudgingly ad- 
mitted than once long ago he had served the cause of the 
slave well. Other of his old co-workers had retired, Weld 
and his wife and sister-in-law to found a school, Stanton and 
Leavitt to join the Republicans. Garrison still quarreled with 
those who were left. One such wrangle arose out of his un- 
fortunate attempt at humor in publicly referring to Abby 
Kelley Foster's "cracked voice and gray hairs*" Abby bridled 
at such ungenerous treatment and demanded an apology. 
Garrison refused "because I do not see or feel that I have 
been a wrong-doer." Abby accused him of belittling her 
efforts in behalf of the slave. "Not so," he retorted. "I believe 
you to have always been actuated by the highest and purest 
motives, however lacking in judgment or consistency." 6 
Letters packed with recrimination and righteousness shuttled 
back and forth as Abby refused to forget his ungentlemanly 
behavior and he declined to apologize. 

This aggressive self-righteousness, tightening as the years 
passed, was slowly twisting Garrison's reform impulse into 
a philosophy of obedience. His philosophy he summarized in 
the phrase "loyalty to man," but his old concern with worthi- 
ness betrayed an underlying anxiety. The loyalty of the re- 


former, he explained, comprises, first of all, loyalty to himself, 
striving to keep himself pure from sin and in progress toward 
holiness, and next, to his fellow men. "We cannot bestow any- 
thing upon God. But if we love Him, and wish to manifest 
our love, the very best way is to obey Him; and every pos- 
sible mode of obedience to Him is contained in these two 
improving ourselves, and helping our fellow men." 7 The 
order of duties was significant. Only when a reformer met 
his personal obligation to God was he free to impeach, ad- 
monish, rebuke, and, finally, "having done all, TO STAND." 8 

To stand where? It was all very well to insist that his 
view of reform was not "partial" but "complete," yet it was 
difficult to see how the peaceful secession of Northern 
purists would bring about the "immediate, total and eternal 
overthrow of slavery." Garrison seemed more and more 
occupied with the role of Hebrew prophet. "One thing is 
very palpable our likeness as a people to the Jews of old." 
The ancient Jews were not ashamed, neither did they blush, 
and their fate had been decreed by an angry God. America, 
hear the word of the Lord and tremble! Jehovah would 
soon exact full repentance for the sin of disobedience. Al- 
ready the people of Kansas were reaping the whirlwind, 
and their trials foreshadowed greater ones to come. The image 
of the avenging destroyer, the God of wrath whose retribu- 
tion is imminent, began to haunt him. To hasten the day of 
reckoning he called a delegated convention of the free states 
"for the purpose of taking measures to effect a peaceable with- 
drawal" from the Union. The Disunion Convention, as it 
was optimistically called, was held in Worcester in January,. 


The Worcester Convention turned out to be "nothing 
more than a Garrisonian meeting" with none but diehard 
disunionists on hand. 10 Political abolitionists were unwilling 


to involve themselves in such an unpopular affair. Henry 
Wilson and Charles Francis Adams sent disapproving letters, 
as did Amasa Walker and Joshua Giddings, rejecting what 
Adams termed Garrison's "mistaken theory of morals." His 
Worcester Convention applied this theory with customary 
thoroughness by voting the inevitable resolutions calling for 
Northern secession. In his defense of the resolves Garrison 
gave one of the most effective speeches of his career. "My 
reasons for leaving the Union," he told his handful of diehard 
disunionists, "are, first, because of the nature of the bond. 
I would not stand here a moment were it not that this is 
with me a question of absolute morality of obedience to 
'higher law.' By all that is just and holy, it is not optional 
whether you or I shall occupy the ground of Disunion." The 
problem was not one of expediency or the incompatibility of 
Northern and Southern interests. It was a question of com- 
plicity of Massachusetts allied with South Carolina, Maine 
with Alabama, Vermont with Mississippi, in condoning 
wickedness. His own difficulty, he said, was wholly a moral 
one centered on the unmistakable fact that the Union was 
based on slavery. "I cannot swear to uphold it. As I under- 
stand it, they who ask me to do so, ask me to do an immoral 
act to stain my conscience to sin against God, How can I 
do this?" 11 

At the end of his speech he dismissed Southern secession 
threats with the observation that there was not a single 
intelligent slaveholder who favored the dissolution of the 
Union. "I do not care how much they hate the North, and 
threaten to separate from us; they are contemptible numeri- 
cally, and only make use of these threats to bring the North 
down on her knees to do their bidding, in order to save the 
Union. Not one of them is willing to have the cord cut* and 
the South permitted to try the experiment," The time was 


still 1857, and as long as Southern threats need not be taken 
seriously, it was safe to preach disunion. 

It may have been safe to advocate Northern secession, but 
it was decidedly unpopular. Garrison's renewed agitation 
plunged his organization into disaster. Wherever he lectured 
Montpelier, Vermont; Salem, Ohio; Northampton, Massa- 
chusetts; Syracuse, New York people were hostile and 
audiences nonexistent. Despondently he admitted that his 
old friends were almost entirely discouraged as to the cause. 
"The love of some has waxed cold; some have moved away; 
some have failed in business; some have been drawn into 
politics; and hardly any are left to sympathize with and sus- 
tain our radical position/' 12 In Altoona, Pennsylvania, twenty- 
five people attended his lecture, the smallest audience he 
ever addressed. In Cortland, New York, a "mass convention" 
turned out to be an unenthusiastic crowd of women. He 
stuck to his disunion guns, blasting away at church and state, 
and at one lecture had the grim satisfaction "of seeing that 
my shots took effect by several wounded birds flying from 
the room." He never stopped hoping that some good would 
come of his lectures "beyond what is apparent." 13 

All that was apparent in the autumn of 1857 when he 
planned a national disunion convention was the pathetically 
small number of his followers. The call for the national 
meeting was signed by only 4200 men and 1800 women, most 
of them from Massachusetts and Ohio. They believed, in the 
words of the call, that when a majority of people in the 
North joined with them, they would "settle this question of 
slavery in twenty-four hours." 14 

The National Disunion Convention was never held, al- 
though a small group of Ohio disunionists finally met in 
Cleveland against their leader's advice. Beginning in the 
summer of 1857 a financial panic paralyzed American benev- 


olence along with the business of the country and gave 
Garrison his excuse to postpone what could only have been 
a fiasco. The panic itself he first explained as God's judgment 
on a "fast people." In a more reflective mood he attributed 
it to the unregulated circulation of paper money and the 
foolish speculative practices of the people. "The great majority 
of the people are still in leading-strings ignorant, credulous, 
unreflecting the victims of demagogueism [sic] or financial 
swindling though assuming to hold the reins of government 
in their own hands. They are blind to their own interests, and 
on the whole prefer to be adroitly cheated, rather than hon- 
estly dealt with." 15 Beneath the surface of his Christian egali- 
tarianism there lurked the old Federalist arrogance and 
contempt of the masses. 

The Panic of '57 stirred the ashes of religious revival which 
flared intermittently during the next year. Garrison scoffed 
at it. A genuine revival, he sneered, would scare James 
Buchanan so he could not sleep o' nights and drive the South 
to lynch its preachers. All this talk of coming to Christ, 
however, was just so much empty wind. It defined nothing, 
failed to reach the heart, and was wholly destitute of moral 
courage. If the history of religious awakenings was any indi- 
cation, the revival of 1858, he predicted, would promote 
meanness rather than manliness, delusion instead of intelli- 
gence, 16 

His new emphasis on the secular gave a revolutionary edge 
to his disunionism. Abolitionists, he now believed, needed no 
Scriptural proof for their convictions; they did not need to 
go to the Bible to prove their right to freedom. The very 
thought was absurd. "How dare you make it a Bible question 
at all?" he demanded. The Declaration of Independence pre- 
cluded all appeals to parchment, logic, or history; liberty 
needed no Biblical sanction. At last the American Revolution 


and the rights of the Negro stood free from the coils of 
scriptural precedent. 

There was poetic justice in the fact that while the North 
overwhelmingly rejected Garrison's plea for peaceful seces- 
sion, developments in Kansas made his predictions of violence 
come true. In the first place, the Dred Scott decision ap- 
peared to support his pro-slavery interpretation of the Con- 
stitution. The majority decision, which he called "undeniably 
a party one," appeared to lead the North either to war or 
secession. Reports from Kansas in the summer of 1857 showed 
how ill-equipped the Free Soil Republicans were to deal with 
demon Democracy. Here was a territory where Free Soilers 
outnumbered the border ruffians five to one, and what did 
they have to show for their numbers? The Lecornpton Con- 
stitution. "The people of that territory are as completely 
subjugated as the populace of France or Italy. . . . What 
hope is there for Kansas?" 17 Kansas, he declared, needed 
"repentance and a thorough reformation." What kind of 
reformation whether the strong hand of Jim Lane or the 
angry one of John Brown he did not say. To demand as he 
did that the North stand "boldly and uncompromisingly" 
was to call it to action, and a call to action required a plan. 
His lack of a plan precipitated the major crisis in his life. 

The crisis began at a meeting of the society he had founded 
in 1832, and it came from his old radical confederates the 
Fosters. Abby and Stephen Foster had labored in the rocky 
vineyard of Garrisonism for fifteen years, but lately they had 
begun to watch political developments closely and particu- 
larly the rapid growth of the Republican Party. They con- 
cluded that the North was no longer to be aroused by preach- 
ing, and they chose the occasion of the annual meeting of 
the Massachusetts Society in January, 1858, to tell Garrison 
so. Foster admitted that the time was when moral suasion 


had done great work in the land, but he pointed to the small 
audience before him as evidence that the old ways were out- 
moded. "Our people believe in a government of force; but 
we are asking them to take an essentially non-resistant posi- 
tion which is wholly inadequate to the exigencies of the case. 
They wish to vote." Up jumped Higginson to agree. "The 
moral position of this society," he told Garrison, "is the 
highest and noblest possible, but their practical position does 
not take hold of the mind of the community." Whether aboli- 
tionists ought to join the Republicans or strike out on their 
own he did not know, but the Fosters were in favor of a 
new anti-slavery party. The general discontent was unmis- 
takable as Garrison's colleagues sat awaiting his reply. 

His answer was hardly reassuring. He told his abolitionists 
that they were not responsible for the way in which the 
people received their warnings. "It is my duty to warn them," 
he said fixing his eye on the Fosters, "It is not my duty to 
contrive ways for men in Union with slavery, and determined 
to vote without regard to the moral character of their act, to 
carry out their low ideas, and I shall do no such work," 18 
He had shown Massachusetts her shame and demanded that 
she renounce her compact with death. Was not this work 
and work enough? Clearly in 1858 it was not. Although he 
still controlled enough votes to defeat Foster's bid for a 
political party, the meaning of the revolt was not lost on 
him. Foster was asking him to choose between perfectionism 
and abolition, between religion and reform, and behind the 
demand lay the failure of a thirty-year experiment to unite 
them. He was pondering the dilemma when John Brown, 
taking the law into his own hands at Harpers Ferry, suddenly 
showed him the logical consequences of his doctrine of con- 

He had first met John Brown at Theodore Parker's home 


in January, 1857. While Parker and the other guests sat 
listening, Brown matched his New Testament pacifism with 
dire prophecies from the Old. Two years later Brown at- 
tended the New England Anti-Slavery Convention, where 
after a full day of speeches he was heard to mutter that "these 
men are all talk; what is needed is action action!" His own 
brand of action forced Garrison to reconsider and then aban- 
don his peace principles. 

Garrison never doubted that Brown believed himself di- 
vinely commissioned to deliver the slave or that the old 
man and his sons were brave and heroic men. Yet he could 
not help thinking him misguided and rash, "powerfully 
wrought upon by the trials through which he has passed." 
By the standards of Bunker Hill, Brown died a patriot and 
a martyr. But by the standard of peace? Was there a place in 
history for the Gideons, the Joshuas and Davids? He did not 
know. 19 

The question of Brown's guilt continued to plague him 
until finally he too capitulated to the need for violence. At a 
memorial meeting held in Tremont Temple he read Brown's 
address to the court and then requested permission to com- 
ment on it. Then he asked how many nonresistants there were 
in the audience, and when only a single voice cried out, he 
paused a moment and then said that he too was a peace man 
who had labored unremittingly to effect the peaceful aboli- 
tion of slavery. 

Yet, as a peace man I am prepared to say: Success to every slave 
insurrection at the South, and in every slave country.' And I do 
not see how I compromise or stain my peace profession in making 
that declaration. Whenever there is a contest between the op- 
pressed and the oppressor, the weapons being equal between 
the parties, God knows that my heart must be with the op- 
pressed and always against the oppressor. Therefore, whenever 


commenced, I cannot but wish success to all slave insurrections. 
I thank God when men who believe in the right and duty of 
wielding carnal weapons, are so far advanced that they will take 
those weapons out of the scale of despotism, and throw them into 
the scale of freedom. It is an indication of progress and positive 
moral growth; it is one way to get up to the sublime platform of 
non-resistance; and it is God's method of dealing retribution 
upon the head of the tyrant. Rather than see men wearing their 
chains in a cowardly and servile spirit, 1 would, as an advocate of 
peace,, much rather see them breaking the head of the tyrant with 
their chains. Give me, as a non-resistant. Bunker Hill, and Lexing- 
ton, and Concord, rather than the cowardice and servility of a 
Southern slave-plantation? 

Free at last from his pacifist scruples, he readily became 
reconciled to the Republican Party. Though he still spoke 
of it as a "time-serving, a temporizing, a cowardly party," he 
hoped that his renewed disunionist agitation might yet save 
it. Secretly he hoped that the Republicans, short of dis- 
union, might check the spread of slavery by a show of 
strength. Publicly he declared that they could "create such 
a moral and religious sentiment against slavery as shall mould 
all parties and sects to effect its overthrow." If Republicans 
wondered why he still refused to vote, he answered that it 
was because the greater included the less, that the immediate 
abolition of slavery was incomparably more important than 
preventing its extension. His refusal to vote, however, signi- 
fied no lack of interest in the corning Presidential campaign, 
"for in the various phases of that struggle, we recognize 
either an approximation to, or receding from, the standard 
of equal justice and impartial freedom which we have so 
long advocated." 21 

From moderate support to outright enthusiasm was only a 
step, and this step he took early in the election year of 1860. 


He discerned a marvelous change in Northern opinion: the 
battle of free speech had been won and the conflict between 
freedom and slavery was now agreed to be irrepressible 
"not of man's devising, but of God's ordering." It was deep- 
ening every day in spite of political cunning and religious 
sorcery. "The pending Presidential election," he wrote in 
September, "witnesses a marked division between the politi- 
cal forces of the North and of the South; and though it 
relates, ostensibly, solely to the question of the further ex- 
tension of slavery, it really signifies a much deeper sentiment 
in the breasts of the people of the North, which, in process of 
time, must ripen into more decisive action." 22 That action, 
whatever it might be, awaited the outcome of the election. 

He had fully expected that Seward would be nominated 
and was prepared to oppose him because of his seemingly 
rapid retreat from the irrepressible conflict. He despised 
Seward as the incarnation of political trickery. What the 
Republicans needed was a man with heart as well as intel- 
ligence. Abolishing slavery would prove no mere holiday 
recreation, "something that will lead on to fame and popu- 
larity, to office and power." It meant a willingness to sacrifice 
all these things for the sake of the slave. There appeared to be 
very few leaders of the right caliber in the Republican Party, 
and he was sure that Lincoln was not one of them. 

Garrison's initial reaction to the nomination of Lincoln, 
though unfavorable, hardly matched the outraged cries of 
Wendell Phillips. In an editorial unusually vituperative even 
for him, Phillips labeled Lincoln the "Slave Hound of Il- 
linois" and singled out his 1848 proposal for the return of 
fugitive slaves from the District of Columbia as positive 
proof of his pro-slavery intentions. Garrison at first refused 
to print the libel and accepted it only when Phillips agreed 
to sign his initials to it. Soon, however, he joined his friend 


in berating Lincoln as a slavocrat in disguise. Was a man who 
in one breath demanded the rendition of fugitive slaves and 
in the next professed to hate slavery was such a man worthy 
of confidence and support? "Such a man shall never have 
my vote, either to occupy the Presidential chair, or any 
other station." 23 Lincoln might be six feet four inches tall, 
but he was a mental dwarf. 

Their denunciation of Lincoln did not prevent Phillips and 
Garrison from hailing his election as a triumph of justice. 
"Babylon is fallen, is fallen!" cried Garrison, and Phillips 
announced cryptically that though Lincoln was in place, Gar- 
rison was in power. Nothing could have been further from 
the truth. In the great battle against institutions Garrison had 
lost nearly all the ground he formerly held. His advocacy 
of Northern secession had burgeoned into an act of defiance, 
a challenge to the South to answer "our great, magnificent, 
invincible North." From the arid heights of perfectionist 
anarchy he was descending to the plain of power politics. 
"Give me the omnipotent North," he told his society, "give 
me the resources of the eighteen free States of our country, 
on the side of freedom as a great independent empire, and I 
will ask nothing more for the abolition of slavery." 24 

He flatly refused to take Southern threats of secession 
seriously, since he was convinced that the South's fear of 
Lincoln only showed how desperate she had become. Whom 
the gods would destroy they first make mad. How far would 
Southern rabble-rousers go? Would they secede? "Will they 
jump into the Atlantic? Will they conflagrate their own 
dwellings, cut their own throats, and enable their slaves to 
rise in successful insurrection? Perhaps they will probably 
they will not! By their bullying and raving, they have many 
times frightened the North into a base submission to their de- 
mands and they expect to do it again! Shall they succeed?' 



These assurances of Southern pusillanimity failed to tally 
with his frequent references to the "brutal, demented, God- 
defying oppressors" or with his conviction that the South was 
one vast Bedlam full of lunatics. Eagerly he awaited the 
results of Lincoln's election. It had been a long, desperate 
struggle with the most satanic despotism on earth, but though 
the end was not yet, it could not be far distant "all signs 
of the times are indicating that a great revolution is at hand." 
Of course, Southerners talked treason, but they were careful 
not to commit any acts which might endanger their necks. 
"Hence, all their blustering and vaporing amounts to treason, 
in spirit, language, and possible design, but not to anything 
tangible." 26 

When South Carolina provided the tangible evidence in 
December, he was willing to let the "errant sister" withdraw 
peacefully. "In vain have been, and will be, all compromises 
between North and South," he told his readers. "All Union- 
saving efforts are simply idiotic." 27 As one by one the South- 
ern states left the Union, however, what had once been 
sheer rodomontade suddenly loomed ominously as acts "purely 
factious and flagrantly treasonable." The rebellion of the 
South was not revolution in the spirit of '76, but treachery 
of the deepest dye. The North, he insisted, should accept 
the inevitable, form a convention of free states and band to- 
gether. The Union had been an insane attempt to unite hostile 
interests, hostile ideas and principles two Gods, one for 
liberty, the other for slavery, two Christs, one for white men 
and the other for black. Let the new North organize an 
independent government and say to the slave states, "Though 
you are without excuse for your treasonable conduct, depart 
in peace!" 28 Strained to the breaking point by the secession 
of the South, Garrison's patience did not snap until Southern 


guns at Fort Sumter taught him the folly of peaceful seces- 

In January, 1861, the Massachusetts Society met without its 
leader for the first time in its history. Confined to his bed by 
one of his intermittent fevers, Garrison heard how Phillips 
and Emerson had been shouted down by rowdies who 
whistled, stamped, hurled cushions and bottles, and finally 
paraded onto the stage, where they were beaten back by 
Phillips's armed bodyguard. Phillips obviously enjoyed his 
notoriety and had taken to carrying a pistol. Asked by one 
of his many feminine admirers whether he would use it, he 
replied with a flourish, "Yes, just as I would shoot a mad 
dog or a wild bull." His casual remark was an index of 
abolitionist militance in the new year. 

As April grew near Garrison suddenly became convinced 
of Lincoln's soundness. He now saw in the President a 
"rare self-possession and equanimity" which he never knew 
he possessed. If war came and it seemed likely that it 
would he decided to give all his support to the administra- 
tion. He still hoped it possible for Lincoln to accept separa- 
tion in the spirit of Abraham and Lot, to leave the South to 
her own dreadful devices. Slavery would soon collapse and 
a new Union of North and South would emerge stretching 
from the Atlantic to the Pacific, "one in spirit, in purpose, 
in glorious freedom, the bitter past forgotten, and the future 
full of richest promise." 29 He was still savoring this dream of 
the birth of a true national vocation when the firing on Fort 
Sumter supplanted it with the nightmare of civil war. 

Lincoln's call for volunteers thrust upon Garrison the 
choice he had avoided for thirty years. His losing struggle 
with the problem of reconciling pacificism and abolition is 
documented in four long editorials written after the fall of 
Sumter. In the first of them he reversed his position on seces- 


sion and flatly denied that he had ever granted the right of 
the South to secede. "Certainly it is not a doctrine that has 
ever been advocated or countenanced by us; and we believe 
it wholly indefensible. ... we deny that, between what 
the perfidious secessionists have done, and what we have urged 
upon the North to do in general, there is any point of com- 
parison." In a passage which must have given sour satisfaction 
to the political abolitionists he admitted that the right of 
secession made a mockery of the Union. How could there 
be a right to perpetuate slavery? "Whence does such a 'right' 
originate? What 'sovereignty' is competent to exercise it? 
And if the abolitionists use their right 'for the destruction 
of slavery/ does it follow that the slaveholders have an equal 
right to seek the perpetuity of 'the sum of all villainies'? Is 
there no confusion of ideas here?" 30 

Indeed there was. The confusion lay in his attempt to make 
the right of revolution contingent upon civil liberties. He 
was saying, in effect, that there were "good" and "bad" 
revolutions, that good revolutions freed slaves and hence were 
justifiable but bad revolutions were wicked and unjustifiable. 

He devoted a second editorial to clarifying the problem, 
and the result was confusion worse confounded. First of all, 
he declared, he had never granted any state the right to secede 
"ad libitum" The Declaration of Independence provided no 
carte blanche for would-be revolutionists. The slaveholding 
South long ago had lost its claim to the Jeffersonian heritage 
and the Declaration of Independence. Where was the long 
train of abuses, the denial of life, liberty, or the pursuit of 
happiness? Northern disunionists, that intrepid band of true 
anti-slavery heroes, presented a different case altogether. 
The difference lay in their principles, in their reverence for 
higher law and their ideals of "eternal justice" and "unswerv- 
ing rectitude." Northern secession was based on "the eternal 


fitness of things, and animated by a noble, disinterested, and 
philanthropic spirit," whereas Southern secession was "the 
concentration of all diabolism." 31 As his self-assurance 
dimmed, his prose acquired an incantatory quality, as though 
he thought that by repeating the formula he might come 
to believe it. 

Civil war might have been avoided, he wrote in a third 
editorial, by the simple expedient of proclaiming liberty to 
the captives. We have healed Babylon, but Babylon is not 
healed. "No other alternative is left the Government, there- 
fore, than either to be driven from the Capital, or to main- 
tain unflinchingly its constitutional sovereignty." He wel- 
comed the change in Northern opinion which he called "total, 
wonderful, indescribable." Under these circumstances who 
could doubt the outcome? The South lacked numbers, re- 
sources, energy, courage, and valor. Let there be no more 
treasonable talk of compromise or concession, but in hum- 
bling the Southern conspirators let the government immedi- 
ately use the war power to proclaim universal and immediate 
emancipation! 32 

It remained only to bury the peace cause as decently and 
quickly as possible, and this disagreeable chore he performed 
in the final editorial of the series, "The Relation of the 
Anti-Slavery Cause to the War." First he corrected the 
"widely prevalent but mistaken opinion" as to the pacific 
principles of the abolitionists. "They are generally sup- 
posed or represented to be a body of non-resistants, who 
cannot consistently, therefore, do otherwise than condemn 
or deplore the present clashing of arms in deadly strife." 
It was true that abolitionists had promised not to stir up slave 
rebellions and that as Christians they opposed the use of 
force generally. "But, as individuals, acting on their own 
responsibility, while largely imbued with the spirit of peace, 


they have never adopted the doctrine of non-resistance, with 
a few exceptional cases." About his own case he said nothing 
but passed quickly on to the question of the causes of the 
war. "The one great cause of all our national troubles and 
divisions is SLAVERY: the removal of it, therefore, is essential 
to our national existence." From the beginning abolitionists 
had predicted the consequences of slaveholding in the South. 
"Now that their predictions have come to pass, are they to 
indulge in morbid exclamations against the natural law of 
immutable justice, and to see in it no evidence of the growth 
of conscience, the power of truth, or the approach of the 
long-wished for jubilee?" 33 To his friends he added, "Let us 
all stand aside, when the North is rushing like a tornado in 
the right direction." 34 

Garrison's final estimate of the cause of the Civil War 
was essentially correct it was slavery which disrupted the 
business of government, broke down the two-party system, 
made every foreign and domestic problem an insoluble one, 
and finally forced the South to secede. Even if the question 
of slavery in the territories was abstract and hypothetical 
(a debatable assumption at best), it was nonetheless real. It 
was precisely the abstract quality of the slavery problem 
that made it so real. The war did not come through any 
expressed desire of the American people in either section 
of the country or because their leaders blundered. Had a 
plebiscite been held in April, 1861, an overwhelming majority 
of Americans would have voted against war. But what does 
this prove? That history does not always follow the dic- 
tates of majority will. The story of the decade that ended 
with the firing on Fort Sumter reveals the power of abstrac- 
tions to disrupt the normal course of events and distort normal 
political vision. Americans first tried to avoid the moral 


dilemma of slavery and then to deal with it at a distance as a 
territorial problem. They ended by going to war. 

The rapidity with which the political crisis enveloped the 
country ought to have warned the anti-slavery men of the 
explosive power of their ideas. Abolitionists in general and 
Garrison in particular should have known where their kind 
of moral agitation would lead had to lead. Since 1829 he had 
preached the incompatibility of slavery and democracy. He 
had used every weapon, framed every indictment, coined 
every phrase he could find to prove that the two ways of 
life were irreconcilable. Now he had to face the charges of 
contemporary "revisionists" who accused him of recklessly 
fostering a spirit of violence. 

The question naturally arises [he wrote in 185 8], How is this 
astonishing change in Southern feeling and opinion to be ac- 
counted for? It is owing to the fanatical course pursued by the 
Abolitionists,' will be the reply of their traducers universally. 'If 
they had not created such an agitation and thereby alarmed 
and excited the South, slavery would ere this have been abolished 
in Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and other States. By their 
fierce anathemas and their outrageous measures, they have re- 
tarded the emancipation of the slaves at least half a century,' In 
some cases, such talk as this is the product of honest misconcep- 
tion and utter ignorance; in others, of short-sightedness and in- 
attention; but generally of pro-slavery malignity and desperation. 
What an idiotic absurdity it is to say that earnest, persistent, un- 
compromising moral opposition to a system of boundless im- 
morality is the way to strengthen it, and that the way to abolish 
a system is to say nothing about it! 85 

The abolitionists did not cause the Civil War, but they 
played an indispensable part in precipitating the crisis that 
led to war. By identifying abolition with the cause of free 
society and dramatizing their fight as a struggle between an 


open community with a free intellectual market and a closed 
society afraid of ideas, they showed their generation the ter- 
rible discordance between their ideals and their behavior. 
They raised the Jeffersonian model for re-examination and 
with it the whole revolutionary tradition. They manufactured 
the myth of the Slave Power Conspiracy and capitalized on 
the Southern disposition to act as though it were fact. They 
protested the closing of the mails, the denial of free speech 
and the right of assembly in both sections of the country. 
They turned the United States out of its course and forced it 
to confront a moral question. 

Garrison sensed, however dimly, that a healthy society 
must tolerate the agitation of unpopular opinion. He believed 
that there are certain situations in which compromise is un- 
desirable if not impossible. The Civil War was such an in- 
stance. The obvious fact that no one wanted a war hardly 
alters the equally compelling fact that the abolition of slavery 
required an appeal to force. If such situations do occur and 
in his soul Garrison was convinced that they did then it is 
a moral failure and unpardonable folly to deny that the or- 
ganized use of force may become necessary. 36 Garrison denied 
it as long as he could. He knew that the South had been given 
its chance to abolish slavery and that most Southerners never- 
had any intention of abolishing it. He also knew that to de- 
fend the institution the South had rejected democracy. Had 
he faced the issues squarely, he should have known, probably 
by 1854, certainly by 1857, that slavery would have to be 
abolished by force. Finally, he should also have known that 
the freedom of the Negro was worth the risk of war because 
without it American democracy was a sham. In some such 
recognition lay the ability to meet the crisis when it came 
with rationality and courage. Garrison not only lacked a 
tragic sense of history, he failed in honesty to himself. 


The tragedy of the Civil War was not that it was "repress- 
ible" and "needless/ 7 but that it was fought without any 
clear sense of purpose. For this tragic lack of direction the 
abolitionists, and chief among them Garrison, must bear a 
large share of the blame. Garrison's great failing was not the 
inciting of an unnecessary war but the lack of intelligence to 
direct it for moral ends. 

Armageddon at Last 

IN 1863, the midstream of the Civil War, Garrison wrote a 
patriotic poem for his readers depicting the savagery of 
their enemies. 

Satan seceded, and he fell, 

In chains and darkness doom'd to dwell 

With other traitors who rebel, 

In act, and word, 
Because he'd rather reign in hell 

Than serve the Lord 
Who guards us with his flaming sword. 1 

The demonic figure of the Southern rebel and his Northern 
accomplice, the Copperhead, governed Garrison's imagination 
through four years of civil war. Sometimes it brooded )ust 
over the horizon, a nameless threatening shape. More often 
it assumed the form of Jefferson Davis or Clement Vallandig- 
ham, Fernando Wood or Horatio Seymour. Whether treason 
stalked the West with the Knights of the Golden Circle or 
wandered through Washington corridors or drifted over the 
battlefields of Fredericksburg or rode with Grant through 
the Wilderness, it was an ever-present specter in Garrison's 
mind, portentous and fiendish. The Christian anarchist in 
him yielded to the super-patriot who discovered traitors and 
treason everywhere. His philosophy of minority rights 


crumbled before reason of state, liberty capitulated to au- 
thority, and Garrison joined the ranks of the demagogues. 

He welcomed the war as the only means of freeing the 
slave. At times during the four years of fighting he seemed to 
understand what the war meant and what kind of America 
peace would bring. In the summer of 1862 he was invited to 
speak at Williams College and explain the abolitionists' rela- 
tion to the war. He began by pointing out that true democracy 
had never been practiced in America, that the first American 
Revolution had not been the glorious struggle for human 
rights annually invoked by Fourth of July orators but only 
a colonial rebellion against the mother country. Americans, 
however, had justified their rebellion with a document that 
far transcended their immediate aims. "The Declaration of 
Independence still remains true, in spite of our recreancy to 
it." Against it the Confederacy opposed a medieval absurdity. 
Jefferson Davis told his soldiers that they were fighting the 
tyranny of numbers. What was this but "toryism run to 
seed," a return not simply to the rule of kings but to the 
feudalism of the dark ages? There were no "people" in the 
South, he told the students, nor any democracy in the true 
sense of the word. There was only a slave oligarchy, a class 
of depressed poor whites, and the slaves. The first were des- 
perate men, Miltonic fallen angels who would rather rule 
in hell than serve in heaven. The poor whites were mere tools 
of the masters, "demoralized, benighted and barbarous." The 
Negroes offered the only hope for the South, for they were 
"the only class at the South to constitute a basis for civiliza- 
tion, by their deep religious nature, by the aptitude to learn, 
by their aspiration for a higher destiny, and thus, 'with a large 
infusion of Northern brains and muscles, to make the unity 
of the republic a possible and permanent event" 

It was a picture of social revolution engineered by the 


North and the Negroes which he painted for his audience, 
a class upheaval bringing the end of feudalism and the begin- 
nings of industrial democracy, a second American Revolu- 
tion. Unfortunately this vision quickly faded and in its place 
there emerged the simpler and sterner motif of Republican 
rule. If the Civil War failed to achieve the kind of egalitarian 
justice of which he dreamed, it nonetheless changed his whole 
world. It disrupted the religious movement he had created 
and destroyed his philosophy of moral reform. It released 
a chauvinistic urge formerly confined by pacifist scruples. It 
shattered his friendship with Wendell Phillips, the one man 
who might have clarified his idea of racial equality. It altered 
his view of England and English reformers. Finally, the war 
replaced his stable New England civilization with the raw 
society and irresponsible power of the Gilded Age. 

The war brought out his latent loyalty to the Union, which 
he explained as "the paramount duty of the citizen ... to 
the government." "Theoretically and practically, its preserva- 
tion is of paramount importance to that of any local institution 
under it," he announced, "hence, its right to destroy such 
institutions, root and branch, is unquestionable, when bloody 
rebellion is seen to be its all-controlling spirit." 3 Then the 
war power became competent for all activities of government, 
but this power was not despotic, he told his readers, because 
it rested on popular will and functioned as the organ of "THE 
PEOPLE." To leave the South free to settle the slavery ques- 
tion meant casting off the duties and responsibilities assigned 
by Providence in delivering the slave out of bondage. As a 
corrective measure for those of his old disunionists who per- 
sisted in citing the Declaration of Independence to justify 
Southern secession he recommended a thorough reading of 
the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. 

For the converted patriot the first two years of the war 


were trying indeed. With increasing disgust he found the 
government "blind" and its leaders "stumbling, halting, pre- 
varicating, irresolute, weak, besotted." 4 Nor did the rest of 
the world, British abolitionists included, seem to understand 
the dangers of Southern nationalism. "How can we let them 
go in peace," he demanded of George Thompson, "they want 
to spread slavery over the whole country." 5 Political aboli- 
tionists had been asking the same question of him for twenty- 
five years. 

Bowing to the demands of war, he subjected anti-slavery 
to a searching reappraisal which resulted in a "Restatement 
of the Principles, Measures, and Object of the American 
Anti-Slavery Society," a three-column editorial in the Liber- 
ator for October 4, 1861. The abolitionists, his editorial 
pointed out, had worked under the original Declaration of 
Sentiments for nearly ten years before adopting the motto 
NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS. They had turned to the dis- 
unionist slogan only to secure a hearing from the American 
people; they never had been and were not now disloyal to 
the Union. The federal Constitution protected the rights of 
free speech and a free press, and these rights were all that 
the Garrisonians had ever claimed. "Distinguished for their 
pacific sentiments, they have discountenanced all violence and 
disorder, and sought their ends only through a rectified pub- 
lic sentiment, by the power of truth." From Christian anarchy 
Garrisonism had been miraculously converted into a respect- 
able theory of constitutional reform! 

As soon as the Union Army entered its first summer cam- 
paign, he hailed it as God's machine for dispensing retribu- 
tion. The whole land would be scourged and there would be 
desolation and death, weeping and mourning, but then with 
the slave freed the land would have rest and the waste places 
be restored. Confederate shells at Bull Run exploded this 


prediction along with the confidence of the North and left 
frightened politicians and bewildered generals gasping for an 
explanation. Garrison quickly exonerated the Northern troops. 
As soon as war was declared he had predicted that "demonia- 
cal acts" would be perpetrated by the "Southern Sepoys/* 
and now in the aftermath of battle he told of wounded Union 
soldiers "thrust through and through with bowie-knives and 
bayonets and otherwise mangled in some instances their 
bodies quartered, and in others their heads cut off, and made 
footballs of by their fiendish enemies." 6 He began to hope 
for a huge slave rebellion and promised that when it came "as 
non-resistants, we shall give the slaves our warmest sympa- 
thies." At the same time he stepped up his attack on the 
"treasonable" Democratic Party, accusing it of giving aid 
and comfort to the rebels. 

He boasted that his peace principles were as beneficent 
and glorious as ever, "neither disproved nor modified by 
anything now transpiring in the country." If the American 
people had accepted them long ago, there would have been 
no slavery and no war. Since war had come, however, he 
supported it because there was no wrong or injustice on the 
side of the Union while there was nothing but lynch law 
and diabolism on the side of the secessionists. In upholding 
the Union he did not compromise his pacifist beliefs in the 
least. "On the contrary, we wish all the North were able to 
adopt those principles, understandingly, heartily, and without 
delay; but, according to the structure of the human mind, in 
the whirlwkd of the present deadly conflict, this is impracti- 
cable." 7 

Lincoln's policies during the first two years of the war gave 
the abolitionists scant encouragement. His annual message 
in December, 1861, contained no suggestion that he was 
seriously considering a general emancipation. "What a wishy- 


washy message from the President!" Garrison complained. 
"It is more and more evident that he is a man of a very small 
calibre, and had better not be at the head of a government 
like ours, especially in such a crisis." 8 Perhaps Phillips was 
right after all in denouncing Lincoln as a man without a 
single generous sentiment. The President was obviously 
paralyzed by his fear of losing the loyalty of the border 
states. He was fully equipped by the war power to proclaim 
an emancipation what was he waiting for? If the provi- 
dential opportunity were allowed to pass, there could only 
come heavier judgments and bloodier results. The time for 
an emancipation proclamation was right now! 

Garrison did not misrepresent the President's attitude to- 
ward the Negro: Lincoln hated slavery, but he was not an 
abolitionist. He declared himself naturally opposed to slavery 
and believed that if it was not wrong nothing was wrong. At 
the same time he held that a statesman could not allow his 
private judgments to determine his policy and that it was 
particularly inexpedient, as he put it, "to practically indulge 
. . . abstract judgment on the moral question of slavery." 
The result was a policy shaped largely by force of circum- 
stances. Though he hated slavery, he did not believe in racial 
equality. In the summer of 1862 he held a conference at the 
White House with a group of prominent Negroes hoping to 
get their approval for his plan of gradual emancipation. In 
terms reminiscent of Jefferson's Notes on Virginia he ex- 
plained to them how both the black and the white race 
suffered from close contact and how the Negroes could 
never hope to attain equality. In the whole country, he said, 
not a single Negro was considered the equal of the white. 
No one could change a condition that lay in the nature of 
things. His solution, to which he clung until his death, con- 
sisted of a scheme of gradual manumission coupled with 


colonization or, his own ugly word for it, "deportation." 
Already he was considering the project of a group of land 
speculators for developing the Chiriqui plantation near 
Panama with a consignment of free Negroes; and later in the 
war he actually contracted with the promoters of a Haitian 
plan to relocate freed slaves on the lie a Vache. After a year 
on the island, during which a third of their number died, the 
deportees were returned to the United States. 

Neither Lincoln nor Congress satisfied Garrison's demands 
for a general emancipation policy. A confiscation act of 
August 6, 1 86 1, made slaves captured while working for the 
enemy forfeit but not free, and a later act made the escaped 
slaves of traitors "forever free of their servitude." Congress 
also abolished slavery in the District of Columbia, but a 
general emancipation proclamation awaited the President's 
initiative. The first move came instead from the anti-slavery 
generals - Benjamin Butler and David Hunter who issued 
emancipation proclamations of their own. These Lincoln 
quickly revoked, and there matters stood until September, 

Garrison naturally applauded Fremont's "wise, beneficent 
and masterly procedure" in Missouri and accused Lincoln of 
a serious dereliction of duty in failing to extend emancipation 
under martial law. He hastened to counter Lincoln's plan 
for gradual manumission with the demand for "immediate 
and unconditional emancipation." By immediate emancipa- 
tion he meant, now as he always had, "the recognition and 
protection of his [the Negro's] manhood by law the power 
to make contracts, to receive wages, to accumulate property, 
to acquire knowledge, to dwell where he chooses, to defend 
his wife, children and fireside." 10 Significantly, he ignored the 
question of the franchise: in his mind emancipation did not 
include the right to vote. 


Lincoln's deportation plan revived Northern interest in the 
old colonization schemes which Garrison had assailed three 
decades before. One of these renewed projects involved a 
group of Boston philanthropists and industrialists who were 

interested in the development of Haiti. They arranged a 
meeting and timorously asked him to speak; but Garrison, 
though he admitted that the colonizationists were acting in 
good faith, attacked their scheme as an escape from the duty 
of assimilating the Negro into American life. He spoke, in- 
stead, to the colored people of Boston urging them to have 
nothing to do with the plan. It might be that they would 
suffer from race prejudice for some time to come, he told 
them, and no doubt the temptation to go where they would 
not be proscribed was a strong one. Yet the noblest work they 
could do was stand in their lot and, if need be, suffer. "Before 
God, I do not see how this nation can be really civilized and 
Christianized if you go. You are needed to make us Christians, 
to make us understand what Christianity means, 5 ' 11 If they 
stayed the day could not be far off when the last vestige of 
caste would disappear and blacks and whites would live 
harmoniously as one people. 

Garrison's faith in Lincoln's leadership grew stronger as 
the military crisis deepened. He instructed abolitionists to 
stand aside and let Northern patriotism do its work. Skeptical 
as he was of the President's ideas on emancipation, he felt a 
new responsibility toward him and cautioned his followers to 
avoid any harsh criticism of his administration. Never was it 
so important as now for abolitionists to weigh their words 
carefully and avoid needless persecution. Instructions went 
out to subordinates to quit their unpopular agitation* "I have 
always believed that the Anti-Slavery cause has aroused 
against it a great deal of uncalled for hostility/' he wrote to 
Oliver Johnson in complete seriousness, "in consequence of 


extravagance of speech and want of tact and good judgment, 
on the part of some most desirous to promote Its advance- 
ment." 12 He had conveniently forgotten his old role of agita- 

He undertook to defend Lincoln against the increasingly 
sharp attacks of Phillips and the Fosters, who withheld their 
support until the government freed the slave. Suppose, Garri- 
son asked, that Lincoln were given a chance to answer his 
critics, would he not say something like this? " 'Gentlemen, 
I understand this matter quite as well as you do. I do not 
know that I differ In opinion from you; but will you Insure 
me the support of a united North if I do as you bid me? Are 
all parties and all sects at the North so convinced and so 
united on this point that they will stand by the Government? 
If so, give me the evidence of It, and I will strike the blow/ " w 
The evidence, Garrison noted, was still lacking. 

Such doubts did not deter Wendell Phillips and Stephen 
Foster from denouncing Lincoln unsparingly. At the annual 
meeting of the Massachusetts Society in the spring of 1862 
Garrison fended them off with a resolution declaring the 
government "wholly in the right," but the question of emanci- 
pation remained* When Miller McKim, acting for Garrison, 
resigned as secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society 
later that spring, stating that the abolitionists' work was done, 
Foster and Plilsbury denied that the work of the society was 
anywhere near finished and demanded that the government 
take immediate action. Although Garrison narrowly defeated 
resolutions holding Lincoln "culpable," he knew that his 
control over his societies had been seriously weakened. Loss 
of power mattered less to him now that the war had cur- 
tailed almost all anti-slavery activity and Lincoln seemed the 
abolitionists 1 only hope, 

Yet the President's delay in emancipating the slave stretched 


Garrison's forbearance to the limit. In March, 1862, while the 
Liberator prepared to defend Presidential moderation, Lin- 
coln outlined his plan for gradual, compensated emancipation 
in an overture to the border states. Even Garrison admitted 
that the plan in effect offered a bounty to states in rebellion 
and that there was no emergency warranting such an extraor- 
dinary proposal. In view of the resolutions before Congress 
calling for unconditional emancipation Lincoln's plan looked 
like a decoy. Either the President was empowered to abolish 
slavery everywhere, he insisted, or the war power was a 
fiction. Then Lincoln vetoed General Hunter's emancipation 
proclamation, and a few months later held his fateful confer- 
ence with the Negro delegation, a Spectacle," Garrison cried, 
"as humiliating as it was extraordinary." 14 Could anything be 
more absurd and untimely? Negroes might be banished by 
Presidential edict but they could never be coaxed into emi- 
grating. The President, Garrison was forced to conclude, was 
"wholly destitute" of sympathy for the slave* 

Then came September and the preliminary Emancipation 
Proclamation. The pressure generated by Hunter's and Fre- 
mont's edicts had gradually increased until Lincoln felt the 
need to act. Garrison had expected a dramatic gesture, an 
"Ithuriel spear" that would transform every "pseudo-loyal 
toad" it touched into a "semi-rebellious devil" 16 Though he 
admitted that the proclamation marked Lincoln's new free- 
dom from treasonable advisers, he was? disappointed in its 
narrow compass and hesitant language. It postponed emanci- 
pation in the rebel states for three months, and though it 
committed the government to emancipation, it failed to pro- 
vide a practical program. The document only proved that 
Lincoln would do nothing directly for the slave but worked 
"only by circumlocution and delay," 16 

In December, when Lincoln explained his emancipation 


program in his annual message, Garrison rejected it as a plan 
for buying Southern treason "in lots to suit the purchasers." 
Instead of proclaiming the need of prosecuting the war with 
renewed vigor and suppressing the South, the President went 
into a homily about the evils and disadvantages of disunion, 
and treated the war as a matter of dollars and cents. Like 
Rip van Winkle, Lincoln had been sleeping for the last thirty 
years oblivious to everything going on in the country. His 
scheme bordered on lunacy "it would in our judgment, 
warrant the impeachment of the President by Congress as 
mentally incapable of holding the sacred trusts committed to 
his hands." 17 His blistering editorial, which foreshadowed 
his support of the Republican radicals in the days of Recon- 
struction, marked the point of greatest alienation from the 
President, Suddenly Lincoln looked like Phillips's first-rate 
second-rate man, a reluctant leader without courage. "A 
man so manifestly without moral vision, so unsettled in his 
policy, so incompetent to lead, so destitute of hearty abhor- 
rence of slavery, cannot be relied on in an emergency." 18 
Then came January i, 1863, and the final Emancipation 

Garrison was sitting in the balcony of the Music Hall 
listening to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony when the message 
arrived that Lincoln's proclamation had just come over the 
wire. The triumphal music was interrupted while the audi- 
ence gave nine ringing cheers for Lincoln and three for 
Garrison and the abolitionists. From that day Garrison be- 
came a "tenacious Unionist" and ardent defender of the 
President. The proclamation which he had dismissed as in- 
effective he welcomed as a great historic event, and he praised 
Lincoln for acting in a "cautious" and "considerate" manner 
with due respect for the "obligations and prerogatives of 
government" Now the President had only to "finish what 


he has so largely performed." "Thirty years ago," he told his 
Massachusetts Society a few days later, "it was midnight with 
the anti-slavery cause; now it is the bright noon of day with 
the sun shining in his meridian splendor." 19 

Thus the year 1863, the midpoint of the war, saw Garrison 
give Ms full support to Lincoln and his administration at a 
time when the President needed all the approval he could 
get. The Republicans had nearly lost control of Congress in 
1862, when five of the states which had elected Lincoln fell 
to the Democrats. The Emancipation Proclamation and the 
resurgence of the Democratic Party furnished two good 
reasons for upholding the President, but even more important 
was Garrison's growing awareness of the dimensions of poli- 
tical leadership. All his life he had sought the components of 
the great man in Timothy Pickering, Harrison Gray Otis, 
Lyman Beecher, Daniel Webster only to be disillusioned 
by his hero's flaws or baffled by his own fear of authority. 
Now in the midst of civil war he suddenly realized that for 
all his failings Lincoln was a great leader and a great man, 
A year that witnessed Burnside's costly blunder at Fredericks- 
burg and Hooker's mistake at Chancellorsvillc, draft riots in 
New York, and the rapid growth of Congressional opposition 
to the President also saw the education of Garrison in the 
ways of democratic leadership. In view of the continued 
obstructionist tactics of his followers his decision to stand 
by Lincoln required intelligence and courage, 

The alternative to Lincoln's policy of moderation was the 
Carthaginian peace advocated by the Radicals in Congress 
and by Wendell Phillips. The Radicals were determined to 
secure freedom for the Negro, confiscate the estates of the 
rebels and distribute them among their former slaves, dis- 
franchise the masters, and rule in the name of Northern 
righteousness. Phillips took the lead in denouncing Lincoln 


for his "heartlessness, and infamous pandering to negro- 
phobia," his "senile lick-spittle haste" in following die direc- 
tives of disloyal Northerners, "The President and the Cabinet 
are treasonable," he told a Republican audience in 1862* "The 

President and the Secretary of War should be impeached." 
To a Cooper Union crowd he said that the President never 
professed to be a leader. "He wants to know what yon will 
allow and what you demand that he shall do." Privately he 
told Sumner, "Lincoln is doing twice as much today to break 
this Union as Davis is. We are paying thousands of lives and 
millions of dollars as penalty for having a timid, ignorant 
President all the more injurious because he is honest." 20 On 
the other hand, unlike Garrison, Phillips knew what emanci- 
pation and the return of peace must bring food and housing 
for the Negro, access to the land, education and welfare legis- 
lation, and the key to all these, the right to vote. Garrison 
was hampered by his refusal to consider a social revolution* 
He opposed giving the Negro the franchise and remained 
wholly ignorant of the conditions in the South which de- 
manded social legislation. The differences between the two 
men, which were magnified in the years to come, originated 
in the clash between a romanticized evangelical Christianity 
and the skeptical, secular outlook of a professional reformer. 
Despite his defense of Lincoln, Garrison did not intend to 
relinquish all right to criticize the administration* When 
Lincoln issued his reconstruction plan in December, 1863, 
he joined Phillips in condemning it Lincoln hoped to re- 
establish the state governments in the South with one-tenth of 
the voters who would take an oath of allegiance to the Union 
and agree to make temporary arrangements for the appren- 
ticeship of former slaves. Garrison complained of the exces- 
sive lenience of the President's plan, which allowed the rebels 
to vote and disfranchised a whole body of loyal firemen* 



"It opens the way for duplicity and perfidy to any extent, 
and virtually nullifies the confiscation act of Congress, a 
measure next in importance to the abolition of slavery." 21 As 
yet he was not prepared to face the possibility of a head-on 
conflict between the President and Congress over recon- 
struction; he only knew that Lincoln's magnanimity was a 

At the same time he closed the columns of the Liberator to 
his old pacifist friends. What would peace gain if men who 
fought for other things would not fight for liberty? "The 
way to peace, permanent peace, as things are now is mani- 
festly for the conflict to go on, until liberty shall become 
universal When we get this liberty, we shall have peace." 23 
The pacifists tried to press the peace question on him only to 
be told that "this is not the best period for an abstract ethical 
discussion of the question of Non-Resistance.' 123 

He still held that private scruples need not prevent the 
exercise of public duty and that the accommodation of peace 
principles to the realities of war did not invalidate them* He 
asked the principal of the Boston Latin School to excuse his 
son Frank from military drill, but the problem of the draft 
he met with a piece of rationalization. The true nonrcsistant, 
he said, should refuse to serve and also decline to hire a sub- 
stitute, though he might submit in good conscience to the 
fine exacted by the government for failure to serve. When 
his Quaker friends refused to accept this line of reasoning, 
he avoided further argument and cheerfully suggested that 
"everyone will do well, and best, to be fully persuaded in 
his own mind." 24 

This was the advice he gave to his oldest son George, who 
did not share his pacifist beliefs and succumbed to the pa- 
triotic fervor of the recruiters. Much to his disappointment 
George accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the 


Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment, the first Negro outfit 
in the Union Army. Garrison begged George to reconsider, 
but when the young man refused, he reluctantly accepted 
his decision. When George marched down State Street with 
his regiment on his way to the Carolinas, Garrison stood 
watching at the corner of Wilson's Lane, where twenty-eight 
years earlier a mob had dragged him unresistingly toward 
the Court House. 

I miss you by my side at the table, and at the printing-office [he 
wrote George], and cannot get reconciled to the separation. Yet 
I have nothing but praise to give you that you have been faithful 
to your highest convictions, and, taking your life in your hands, 
are willing to lay it down . * . if need be, in the cause of free- 
dom, and for the suppression of slavery and the rebellion. True, 
I could have wished you could ascend to what I believe a higher 
plane of moral heroism and a nobler method of self-sacrifice; but 
as you are true to yourself, I am glad of your fidelity, and proud 
of your willingness to run any risk in a cause that is undeniably 
just and good. 25 

In December, 1863, Helen Garrison suffered a stroke 
which left her partially paralyzed for the rest of her life. The 

shock of his wife's illness nearly prostrated Garrison, who 

now that the children had grown up was more than ever 
dependent on her* He spent most of his time at home now, 
nursing Helen, doing small chores about the house, and por- 
ing over his list of exchanges. He still attended the conven- 
tions and the meetings, but with less and less enthusiasm* He 
admitted that he was tired tired of making speeches, tired of 
the constant friction with younger and more impetuous aboli- 
tionists. For the first time in his life he was willing to leave 
the arguments and the bickering to others. As it happened, 
they were unwilling to accept his offer of peace* 
At the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Society in 



1 864 Phillips accused the government of a readiness "to sacri- 
fice the interest and honor of the North to secure a sham 
peace." Garrison bridled. "Now, sir," he said patiently to 
Phillips, "I do not believe a word of it, and I cannot vote for 
it." There was a time, perhaps, when he had had little confi- 
dence in Lincoln, but since the Emancipation Proclamation 
he had changed his mind. True, the President was slow in 
making decisions and needed spurring on, but no one could 
really believe that he was ready to make a sham peace. "This 
is a very grave charge." 26 But Phillips had the votes; Garri- 
son's amendment to his resolution was beaten and the society 
went on record as opposing Lincoln's administration. From 
that moment Garrison lost interest in the organization he had 
founded and began to concentrate on re-electing Lincoln. 

As early as January, 1864, the Liberator was broadcasting 
its editor's opinion that the re-election of Lincoln would be 
the wisest and safest course. Lincoln had his faults, but these 
and "a thousand incidental errors and blunders" might easily 
be excused in a man who had freed the slaves. Besides, the 
fewer the differences among loyal Northerners the less chance 
that the Democrats, who were "essentially, brutally, persist- 
ently pro-slavery," would strike hands with the rebels, 27 

He clashed with Phillips a second rime at the American 
Anti-Slavery Society meeting that spring, when Phillips 
charged Lincoln with refusing to give the vote to the Negro. 
Garrison had hoped to avoid this question, which he called 
"a new issue," but Phillips insisted that Negro suffrage was 
the final goal toward which abolitionists were bound to ad- 
vance. Once more Garrison's resolutions defending the Presi- 
dent were defeated and his explanations rejected. At first, he 
was surprisingly tolerant of his friend and protg& He ad- 
mitted that Phillips was "brilliant and eloquent" and hoped 
that thek disagreement would aot alter their friendship, yet 


the fact that Phillips now controlled all that was left of his 
anti-slavery movement inevitably brought their friendship to 

a breaking point. Henceforth Garrison was convinced of 
his old friend's poor judgment and overriding ambition. 

Following their disagreement in New York the two men 
went their separate ways, Phillips to Cleveland with the wild 

notion of securing Fremont's nomination, Garrison to Balti- 
more to attend to the re-election of Lincoln. In rejecting 
Fremont, Garrison displayed the political acumen worthy of 

a ward boss. General Fremont, he reminded Phillips, lacked 

popular support. Even with his strong anti-slavery record, 
how could he defeat the Copperheads? < lf 1 were speaking on 
a moral issue, 1 should speak in a very different manner . . . 

for the man who stands alone in a moral cause, though all the 
world be against him if God be for him, stands in a majority, 
and is conqueror. But *when you come to politics, that is an- 
other sphere. Then you must have votes, then you must have 
men and money; then you must have political influence and 
respectability/" 28 Civil war had taught him politics as the art 
of the possible. 

From Baltimore he went directly to Washington for a 
meeting with Lincoln at the White House, where the Presi- 
dent received him cordially and invited him to return the 
next day. Garrison told him of the enthusiastic Republican 
Convention and of his search for the old Baltimore Jail, which 
had since been torn down. The President chuckled, remark- 
ing that times had certainly changed once he couldn't get 
out of jail and now he couldn't get in. Then Lincoln intro- 
duced him to his other guests* "I was at once surrounded with 
a larger group of persons than even himself/' he wrote to 
Helen with pardonable pride. 29 Chase was out of the city, 
but he found Stanton in his office and after an hour's chat 
announced Wmself pleased with the Secretary's "thorough- 


going anti-slavery spirit." Blair and Seward he ignored. His 
friends Sumner and Wilson invited him to sit with them in 
the Senate and introduced him to their Radical colleagues, 
whom he would soon join in defeating executive reconstruc- 
tion. The Massachusetts Senators even managed to find him 
a hotel room in the crowded city and were otherwise "ex- 
ceedingly marked in their attentions." On the following day 
he had a second meeting with the President, also "a very 
satisfactory one indeed." "Mr. Lincoln," he began, "I want 
to tell you that for every word I have ever spoken in your 
favor, I have spoken ten in favor of General Fremont . * 
but, Mr. President, from the hour that you issued the Eman- 
cipation Proclamation, and showed your purpose to stand 
by it, I have given you my hearty support and confidence." 
Lincoln spoke of his plans for reconstruction of the oath of 
allegiance and his promise of executive recognition to those 
states where one-tenth of the voters took the oath and estab- 
lished governments without slavery. He would need all the 
support the abolitionists could give him. Garrison promised 
to do his part. The President's candor won him over com- 
pletely, and he returned to Boston ready for another campaign 
in which the Liberator would confute error, rebuke wrong, 
unmask dissimulation, condemn guilt, and see to it that Abra- 
ham Lincoln was re-elected. 30 

Phillips soon saw that though he now controlled both the 
national and state societies, he had no way of making cither 
Johnson's Anti-Slavery Standard or the Liberator support 
the cause of John C. Fremont Both editors continued to 
hymn Lincoln's praises as before. Phillips remonstrated with 
Garrison for his unfair tactics. "Of course, an earnest conver- 
sation, though a brief one, ensued between us," Garrison re- 
ported blandly, "in which I told him he had in every instance 
compelled a fair and friendly defense of the President by his 


partisan appeals for Fremont, and his unjust and sweeping 
accusations/' He warned Johnson that Phillips was bent on 
controlling the Standard and that there were "breakers ahead," 
"I fear P. has made up his mind to leave us; but time must 
determine. He is evidently in a heated state/' 81 

Indeed Phillips was so irate that he sent off instructions to 
Henry Bowditch, the treasurer of the national society, not 
to pay a cent more out of the coffers to the Standard, Garri- 
son intervened and called a meeting of the Executive Com- 
mittee. Phillips claimed that he had committed the society to 
Fremont not once but three times and that the Standard 
ought to conform to its decision. "I fear he may take with 
him a majority of the Executive Committee," Garrison wrote 
wistfully, "but whether the majority be on one side or the 
other, it looks as if we are to be rent asunder, and our organ- 
ized operations brought to an immediate close." 82 The dis- 
solution of the anti-slavery organization, however, awaited 
the end of the war. 

As a campaign sheet for Lincoln the Liberator had few 
peers. Garrison imperturbably announced that "if to give the 
weight of our sympathy and influence to Mr* Lincoln's re- 
election makes us recreant to anti-slavery principles," then 
he was pro-slavery. He accused Fremont of pursuing a "dis- 
tracting course" and continually urged him to step aside. He 
minimized the administration's failings and asked his readers 
to take a "telescopic" rather than a "microscopic" view of 
the war, and "instead of dwelling upon and magnifying to 
huge dimensions those incidental errors and outrages which 
are inevitable in the midst of such awful civil war, and which 
are sure to be corrected, fix your gaze upon those sublime 
and glorious acts of President Lincoln's administration, where- 
by slavery has received its death warrant, and the haughty 
Slave Power been laid low in the dust*" M He singled out the 


New York newspapers the World, News, Express, and 
Journal of Commerce as "treasonable journals" worthy of 
suppression. In an editorial entitled "Where Lies the Danger," 
on August 19, 1864, he demanded vigorous action against 
any citizen suspected of harboring "treasonable designs." "A 
timid, half-way policy will not discourage but rather em- 
bolden and stimulate sedition. Open-mouthed conspirators, 
who possess any influence, should be promptly arrested; and 
every traitorous gathering should be summarily dispersed by 
the strong arm of military authority. ... By their own Con- 
stitution THE PEOPLE have provided for the exercise of this 
summary power in times like these, as a matter of self-preser- 
vation; and, unless they have ceased to believe in the right of 
expediency of upholding the Constitution, they will stand 
by its enforcement to the extremest needs." 34 Not since the 
campaign of 1828 had he engaged in such free-wheeling parti- 
san journalism, and not since the Federalist editorial experi- 
ments of his youth had the profile of his authoritarian per- 
sonality seemed so sharp. 

In September the Fremont boom collapsed and Sherman's 
march to the sea disposed of McClellan and the Chicago 
Platform. Fremont withdrew from the race, thus saving him- 
self, Garrison wrote, "from the shame and calamity of a 
copperhead triumph." Once Lincoln was safely elected by a 
majority of four hundred thousand, Garrison anticipated a 
quick end to the war. With the inverse logic of the innocent 
he read Lincoln's re-election as a mandate for the Republican 
Radicals, as if totally unaware of the power struggle already 
being waged in Washington for the control of the govern- 
ment. In fact, his own ideas on reconstruction reflected the 
mood of Congress rather than the Presidential temper. He 
agreed that there must be no recognition of the rebel states 
as legal entities. They were in a state of "misrule, anarchy, 


chaos" out of which new constitutional status would be 
evolved by Congress, which alone had the power to determine 
their existence. No amnesty of Lincoln's could transform 
rebellious states into loyal ones. It was for Congress to decide 
upon the necessary military control, direct the occupation, 
and determine the time and conditions of re-entry into the 
Union. "No other course can give repose or security, or 
make atonement for the horrible excesses of those revolted 
portions of the country." 85 

While his general views on the treatment of the rebels 
coincided with those of the Congressional Radicals, his ideas 
on rehabilitating the Negro were hazy and confused. Like 
Lincoln, he knew that emancipation would find the slaves 
where slavery had left them, in need of Northern help; and 
he saw an immense field in the South for philanthropic and 
missionary effort. As the various freedmen's organizations 
emerged in the last year of the war, he hailed them as "trust- 
worthy mediums" of restoration, but of their scope and func- 
tion, the nature of their aims he knew next to nothing. The 
end of the war found him with only a general sympathy for 
the Negroes overshadowed by his towering hatred of their 
former masters. 

On April 8, 1865, the federal steamship Arago cleared New 
York Harbor for Charleston, South Carolina. On board were 
Garrison and George Thompson along with General Robert 
Anderson, Henry Wilson, the Henry Ward Beechers, and 
a boatful of political generals and minor government officials. 
They were on their way to Fort Sumter to watch General 
Anderson raise the flag over the fort he had been forced to 
surrender four years ago. George Garrison had been granted 
a furlough to join his father, who was anxious for the first 
glimpse of his son in nearly a year, 

The voyage through the calm seas of a warm spring proved 


a pleasant diversion from the war. Garrison wrote daily to 
his invalid wife describing in detail his triumphal visit to the 
home of rebeldom. The invaders stopped for a short while in 
once beautiful Savannah, now "a city of mingled gentility 
and squalor." Charleston Harbor was crowded with masts 
flying the Union flag. Before the ceremonies he traveled out 
to Mitchelville, the first self-governing town of frccdmcn in 
the South. The inhabitants welcomed him rapturously, packed 
the local church to hear him talk, and serenaded him with 
"The Day of Jubilee" as he drove off. To ensure the proper 
spirit of jubilation at the flag-raising ceremony itself, a Union 
naval captain had collected over two thousand newly eman- 
cipated slaves of all ages and sizes whose joy at being guests 
of the government was unbounded. The ceremonies went off 
in stirring fashion: Anderson raised his flag and Bccchcr's 
speech was properly pontifical. In the evening a banquet was 
held at the Charleston Hotel at which Garrison commented 
solemnly on South Carolina's fall from grace. "She has been 
brought down from her pride of place. The chalice was put 
to her lips, and she drank it to the dregs." He said that he had 
never been the enemy of the South, only a friend who had 
tried to save her from this "great retribution demanded in 
the name of the living God." To the victorious Union and 
loyal Southerners he offered the toast which he called the 
governing passion of his soul: "Liberty for each, for all, and 
for ever." Before he retired for the night he visited the office 
of the Charleston Courier, the old antagonist of the Liberator > 
where he picked up the type stick and set a paragraph of 
Beecher's speech. Before him on the compositor's slab lay 
tangible proof of his triumph. 

The next day he stopped at the tiny cemetery beside St. 
Philip's Church, where he meditated at the grave of Calhoun 
and pronounced the death verdict on slavery, "Down to a 


deeper grave than this slavery has gone, and for It there is 
no resurrection." Then from graveyard musings to a huge 
gathering of the freedmcn in Zion's Church to listen to end- 
less eulogies and accept bouquets of spring flowers. Just be- 
fore he rose to speak three little girls approached him and 
placed in his lap a floral wreath. He explained to the congre- 
gation the purpose of his visit to Charleston and his reasons 
for undertaking the cause of their freedom. "It was not on 
account of your complexion or race, as a people, that I es- 
poused your cause, but because you were children of a 
common Father, created in the same divine image, having the 
same inalienable rights, and as much entitled to liberty as the 
proudest slaveholder that ever walked the earth." The Union, 
he promised them, would stand by them to establish their 
freedom "the Government has its hold upon the throat of 
the monster Slavery, and is strangling the life out of it/' 

Whatever his audience in Zion's Church thought, back in 
Boston there were those of his colleagues who doubted that 
the government would give the Negro his rights. The assassi- 
nation of Lincoln seemed to them to presage a tragic retreat 
from the ideals of the war, and they determined to wrest full 
control of the old American Anti-Slavery Society before 
Garrison disbanded it and to continue the fight to secure for 
the Negro the vote. They were waiting for him when he re- 
turned from Charleston* 

The dispute at the annual meeting of the American Anti- 
Slavery Society inevitably turned on the issue of Negro 
suffrage. Garrison knew that he lacked the votes to dissolve 
the society, but with a flash of the old combative spirit he 
threw down the gauntlet by moving to disband. "The point 
is here," he explained. "We organized expressly for the aboli- 
tion of slavery; we called our Society an AntMSUwery Society. 
The other work (Negro suffrage) was incidental Now, I 


believe, slavery is abolished in this country, abolished consti- 
tutionally, abolished by a decree of this nation, never, never 
to be reversed, and, therefore, that it is ludicrous for us, a 
mere handful of people with little means, with no agents in 
the field, no longer separate, and swallowed up in the great 
ocean of popular feeling against slavery, to assume that we 
are of special importance, and that we ought not to dissolve 
it/' 36 Since the government would necessarily guarantee the 
freedmen their civil liberties by force of arms, the abolition- 
ists were now superfluous. 

Phillips proceeded to demolish Garrison's argument. The 
Thirteenth Amendment had not yet been ratified, lie pointed 
out, and the South remained unconverted, "You cannot kill 
off all the white men who cherish a hatred toward democratic 
institutions. You can only flank them, as Grant flanked Lee 
flank them by democratic elements Yankee commerce, 
black suffrage, divided lands." Slavery was stunned perhaps, 
but not dead. "Prejudice is rife. All over the country, the 
colored man is a Pariah." 

PHILLIPS: Now, friends, my abolitionism, when I pledged my 
faith to that Declaration of Sentiments and Constitution of the 
American Anti-Slavery Society, was, 'Absolute equality before 
the law; absolute civil equality/ and I never shall leave the 
Negro until, so far as God gives me the power to do so, 1 
achieve it. 

GARRISON: Who proposes to do so? . . . I think I am competent 
to interpret the language of the Declaration of Sentiments [of 
1835] if any man living be. I was the author of it; and unless 
I have grown demented, I ought to know what I meant, and 
what this Society meant in using that language. This Society 
is The American Anti-Slavery Society,* That was the object 
The thought never entered my mind then, nor has it at any 
time since, that when slavery had received its death wouad* 


there would be any disposition or occasion to continue the 
Anti-Slavery Society a moment longer . . . 

PHILLIPS; I do not know what Mr. Garrison meant when he 
wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, and the Constitution of 
the American Anti-Slavery Society 


PHILLIPS: Of course he docs, and his construction Is sufficient 
for his guidance, but not for mine or yours. 

When Pillsbury and Foster entered the fray, personal ani- 
mosities flared. Foster regretted that the "old" and "tired" 
members felt disposed to quit* Garrison accused Phillips o 
making "unjust and unfounded allegations." George Thomp- 
son used the old Garrisonian trick of citing earlier remarks of 
Phillips and appealed "from Phillips drunk to Phillips sober." 
Garrison recalled that in 1861 Phillips said that slavery had 
been dealt its deathblow. "Can I not grow wiser?" Phillips 

Garrison's views on the question of Negro suffrage had 
grown steadily more conservative. Personal freedom was one 
thing, he now felt, the vote another. He granted that ia the 
course of their fight the abolitionists had often raraed aside 
to agitate for enfranchisement of free Negroes in various 
parts of the North, but he emphatically denied that the ballot 
was ever an essential part of their program. "In enumerating 
the grievances under which the slaves of the South have been 
crushed so long, no abolitionist has ever alluded to their 
exclusion from the ballot-box as in that category." Then what 
was the sense of freeing the slave? Phillips wanted to know. 
Garrison's editorial reply summarised his interpretation of the 
history of the anti-slavery crusade and, in a larger sense, his 
whole conservative philosophy. "Of course, there was no dif- 


ference of opinion as to the fact, that, inasmuch as slavery 
was the extinction of every natural right, so its abolition 
would open the way for ultimate social, civil and political 
equality; but this through industrial and educational develop- 
ment and not by any arbitrary mandate." Simply because 
ignorant white men were allowed to vote there was no reason 
to enfranchise millions of ignorant blacks. When in history 
had emancipation ever been accompanied by a recognition of 
political equality? 

Chattels personal may be instantly translated from the auction- 
block into freemen; but when were they ever taken at the same 
time to the ballot-box, and invested with all political rights and 
immunities? According to the laws of development and progress, 
it is not practicable. . . . Nor, if the freed blacks were admitted 
to the polls by Presidential fiat, do I see any permanent advantage 
likely to be secured by it; for submitted to as a necessity at the 
outset, as soon as the State was organized and left to manage its 
own affairs, the white population with their superior intelligence, 
wealth, and power, would unquestionably alter the franchise in 
accordance with their prejudices, and exclude those thus sum- 
marily brought to the polls. Coercion would gain nothing. In 
other words . , , universal suffrage will be hard to win and to 
hold without a general preparation of feeling and sentiment* But 
it will come . . . yet only by a struggle on the part of the rf&- 
francbised, and a growing conviction of its justice 'in the good 
time coming.' With the abolition of slavery in the South preju- 
dice or *colorphobia,' the natural product of the system, will 
naturally disappear. 87 

Here was the conservative message he had spent his whole 
life preaching slavery was a moral rather than a political 
issue, immediate emancipation meant gradual rehabilitation, 
not social revolution. 

He was willing to put his belief in moral reform to the 


test by moving the dissolution of the society and watched 
sadly as one by one the members voted against him* 38 Once 
again as it had for twenty-two years, the Nominating Com- 
mittee reported his name for re-election as President. Gravely 
he declined* Phillips was elected in his place and submitted 
a tribute to the retiring president in the form of a resolution 
which was adopted with a rising vote. In his farewell speech 
he accepted Phillips's eulogy gracefully and mocked the 
funereal mood of the members, calling on them to celebrate 
the day of jubilee, the resurrection from the dead. 

Slavery is in its grave, and there is no power in this nation that 
can ever bring it back. 1 thank you, beloved friends, who have for 
so many years done me the honor to make me the President of 
the American Anti-Slavery Society, I never should have accepted 
that post if it had been a popular one. I took it because it was 
unpopular; because we, as a body, were everywhere denounced, 
proscribed, outlawed. To-day, it is popular to be President of the 
American Anti-Slavery Society. Hence my connection with it 
terminates here and now, both as a member and as its presiding 
officer, I bid you an affectionate adieu* 

If it was popular to be an abolitionist in the spring of 1865, 

it was especially satisfying to be the retired leader of a vindi- 
cated and now glorious cause. In stepping down Garrison 
simply abandoned the dusty forum of the abolitionists for 
the legislative halls of the Republican Party, The tragedy was 
that to the citizens of the North who were finally ready to 
listen to an anti-slavery hero he had nothing to say. 

Reconstruction and Redemption 

FEAR MIDNIGHT on December 29, 1865, Garrison sat at 
^ Jfiis office desk hurriedly composing his "Valedictory" 
and handing each paragraph as he finished it to the printers 
who waited at his elbow. This was the way he had worked for 
thirty-five years, dashing off editorials at the last minute and 
inserting them just before the paper went to press* Now he 
was putting the Liberator to bed for the last time. Having 
finished, he laid down his pen, walked to the composing 
bench, set the final paragraph himself and locked it in* Then, 
saying goodnight to the printers, he went home to Helen. 

For a valedictory his editorial was neither sentimental nor 
self-righteous. He sounded no trumpets, he said, made no 
parades. "The object for which the Liberator was commenced 
the extermination of chattel slavery ~~ having been glori- 
ously consummated, it seems to me especially appropriate to 
let its existence cover the historical period of the great straggle; 
leaving what remains to be done to complete the work of 
emancipation to other instrumentalities (of which 1 hope to 
avail myself), under new auspices, with more abundant 
means, and with millions instead of hundreds/* 1 

Leaving the freedmen to millions, however, meant abandon- 
ing them to a Northern majority who had no clear sense of 
purpose. So Phillips argued when he refused to disband the 


American Anti-Slavery Society or close down the Standard. 
Edmund Quincy, Henry Wright and Samuel May, Jr., re- 
tired from the society with Garrison. The new Executive 
Committee refused to vote a resolution of thanks to the retir- 
ing editors of the Standard, Johnson and Quincy; and when 
it finally made a reluctant acknowledgment of their services, 
they refused to accept it. Hostility between Phillips and Garri- 
son continued to mount. Garrison accused Phillips of ingrati- 
tude, Quincy openly snubbed him, and the old cordiality of 
the clique died. "We don't see any of them," Ann PhilUps 
said of the Garrison family now, "for they feel very unkindly 
towards us/' 2 Phillips admitted sadly that half the men he 
had worked with for thirty years would not speak to him 
on the street. 

Garrison was irked by Phillips's reminder that the work of 
rehabilitating the Negro had just begun and bridled at his 
"unjust imputations upon his old associates." As for the 
remnants of the society he himself had founded, "of course, 
as the whole thing is a farce, I care nothing for it-" s He wrote 
a long and virtriolic letter to the Independent^ the religious 
weekly edited by Theodore Tilton in New York, denounc- 
ing Phillips as an opportunist who sought to make political 
capital out of the black man. Undoubtedly PhilHps would 
take the letter as a "mortal affront," he told Johnson. "But 
I can stand anything but an imputation upon my fidelity to 
the colored race; and I know not why he should be allowed 
to hold us all up to view as hauling down our flag, and beat- 
ing a hasty retreat, without being strongly rebuked for it*" 4 
Diehard supporters of Phillips declared that for the last two 
years they had thrown the Liberator away in disgust. What 
more proof, he asked Helen, was needed of the evil influence 
wrought by Phillips? Thus Garrisonism died as it had been 
born, in the midst of recrimination and rancor. 


In 1864 Garrison had moved his family from Dix Place to 
a rambling frame house in Roxbury. Set high above the road 
on ledges and surrounded by an orchard, his new home was 
only a half-hour from the city but secluded enough to be a 
little lonely now that the children had grown up and left 
home. After a Harvard education financed by Phillips, his 
son Wendell married Miller McKim's daughter Lucy and 
joined E. L. Godkin on the Nation. Fanny found her match 
in the aggressive Henry VUlard and set out to help him carve 
his fortune out of American railroads. The older boys, Wil- 
liam and George, had gone into business after the war. Young 
Frank, whose adolescent aimlessness disturbed his father, 
drifted between the Villard home and Roxbury. Helen, 
though confined to the house, was as cheerful and uncom- 
plaining as ever, but without his family the big, high-ccilinged 
rooms seemed strangely empty. "Harry will forgive me if, 
occasionally, I involuntarily sigh to think that you have been 
taken away from our household," he wrote to Fanny, "of 
which you were its light and joy; yet to wish it otherwise 
were selfish indeed." 6 Most of his time now he spent in his 
study rummaging through old newspapers and clipping arti- 
cles for his anti-slavery history* 

His Republican prejudices were strengthened by a visit to 
Washington in February, 1866, where he saw Sumner and 
Wilson again and discussed Andrew Johnson's faults with 
Ben Wade and Thad Stevens, He attended the debates over 
the President's veto of the Freedmen's Bill and interviewed 
General Oliver O. Howard, who asked his help in establish- 
ing the Freedmen's Bureau. All of his acquaintances ridiculed 
Johnson and spoke of the need for new congressional leader- 
ship to counter his despotic policies. Garrison gave two ad- 
dresses in Washington, both to small audiences, in which he 
added his own warnings of executive tyranny. On his way 


home he stopped with Theodore Tllton in Brooklyn, where 
he lectured at the Academy of Music. At the end of his 
speech he used some of the new information gleaned from 
the Radicals to inform his audience of an impending revolution 
which Johnson was plotting with the aid of the Democratic 
Party. "What I said was quite impromptu," he wrote to 
Fanny, "but I am more and more convinced that Pres. John- 
son will attempt a coup d'etat against Congress by the time 
summer is upon us* He will do it 'constitutionally' and *to 
preserve the Union' and put down Northern 'conspirators/ 
The elements of violence are gathering for the onslaught. 
Tell Harry his 15,000 loyal men in Washington will be 
needed." 6 Home once more in Roxbury, he decided to uphold 
the Republicans in their fight against executive usurpation. 

He missed the editorial routine and was often at a loss to 
fill the time, "I am, as yet, uncertain what to do," he con- 
fided to Henry Wright. "But I must try to find some em- 
ployment soon, as my candle is burning at both ends." 7 He 
told Wendell that the "price of family living," which was 
"enormous," would soon force him to seek steady employ- 
ment. For this and other reasons he began to consider writing 
a multivolumc history of anti-slavery. His family and friends 
urged him to begin work right away, and Ticknor & Fields 
promised to underwrite it Fanny, who knew how much her 
father missed the Liberator ? suggested that he sign a contract 
immediately* "Be merciful!" he begged. "It is a matter re- 
quiring the gravest deliberation before I actually commit 
myself one way or another." 8 Vague doubts held him back, 
something told him he was not "competent" to write either 
an autobiography or a history of abolition. It was much easier 
to accept Oliver Johnson's invitation to write occasional arti- 
cles for the Independent* Free-lance journalism, he concluded, 


suited his talents better than excavating in dusty anti-slavery 

His financial worries were relieved by news of a plan to 
raise fifty thousand dollars for him as a national testimonial 
At first he doubted whether it would succeed, remembering 
that similar testimonials for George Thompson and John 
Brown's widow had proven "slumps." "I have seen so many 
similar attempts end in miserable failures, that I shall not be 
disappointed if this shall meet with the same fate. . . . But 
whether it shall succeed or not, I shall none the less be grate- 
ful to those who have set it on foot. Of course, it is for us as 
a family to say little or nothing about it to others at present." 9 
Yet he could not help inspecting the project periodically and 
watching closely as the figures climbed toward the thirty- 
thousand mark. He even suggested to the committee names of 
possible contributors who had not yet been approached. In 
March, 1868, the committee presented him with a check for 
thirty-one thousand dollars and a ringing testimonial to "the 
leader and inspirer of the movement against American slav- 
ery." Their tribute he acknowledged with gratitude if not 
in strictest truth. "Of this testimonial I may be permitted to 
say, that none was ever more unsought or more unexpected; 
none more spontaneous or more honorable was ever prof- 
fered." 10 

In the spring of 1866 he sprained his arm badly, and the 
electrical treatments in which he had so much faith improved 
it no more than they had his wife's paralysis. He used his 
disability as an excuse for postponing the history. Frank and 
Wendell kept sending documents and clippings with the re- 
peated suggestion that he begin compiling a collection of 
anti-slavery source materials. "I am obliged to Wendell for 
his suggestions about 'extracts,' etc,," he wrote to Frank, "but 
to be of any value as a book of references he must remember 


that something more than my ipse dixit will be necessary in 
the way of impeaching and arraigning Church and State. But 
it will be a difficult thing to decide how much or how little 
of evidence to present to sustain the needed allegations." 11 
He was occupied with these perplexing thoughts when the 
Radical attack on President Johnson called him to his post. 

From the outset the Republican Radicals were bent on 
dismantling the executive machinery under the guise of saving 
the country from tyranny. Since Lee's surrender events in 
the South appeared to give credence to their fear of reaction. 
Far from granting civil rights even to a minority of the quali- 
fied Negroes, the Southern states erected Black Codes de- 
signed to keep the freedmen in a state hardly distinguishable 
from slavery. By December, 1865, every former Confederate 
state had complied with the Lincoln-Johnson plan for re- 
admission; they had drafted new constitutions and elected 
state legislatures, repudiated the Confederate debt, and ratified 
the Thirteenth Amendment. In his annual message to Con- 
gress Johnson announced that the Union had been restored. 
Senators and Representatives from the South arrived in 
Washington to await congressional approval of their cre- 

It suddenly seemed to Garrison and the Radicals that their 
war had been fought for nothing, that Johnson working with 
their enemies had nearly achieved a restoration of the old 
order. Quickly they set their machinery in motion. The 
Joint Committee of Fifteen replied to Johnson's message by 
declaring that the rebel states had committed suicide and 
therefore fell under the complete jurisdiction of Congress, 
which would prescribe the terms for their readmission. Then 
began a straggle for control which ended fifteen months 
later with the Tenure of Office Act, an attempt to alter 


permanently the balance of power within the federal govern- 
ment in favor of Congress. 

Garrison's assault on Johnson gathered momentum in the 
spring of 1866. The North had won the war; he would not 
let it lose the peace. On the first anniversary of his trip to 
Charleston he confided his fears to Wendell "How sad and 
shocking was the assassination of President Lincoln! And how 
sad and shocking to have such a perfidious successor as Presi- 
dent Johnson! Who can tell what another year will bring 
forth?" 12 Unable to attend the first meeting of the Sumter 
Club, he sent a proclamation of his new alliance with the 

Andrew Johnson might have placed his name high on the roll of 
the illustrious and world-renowned benefactors of the human 
race; but, by his evil and treacherous course, his usurping and 
despotic policy in the interests of those who arc still rebels in 
spirit and purpose, his perfidy as their soi-di$ant "Moses" toward 
the liberated bondmen of the South, he seems bent upon sending 
his name down to posterity along with those of Benedict Arnold 
and Judas Iscariot. . . . Allow me, therefore, to offer you the 
following cold-water sentiment: The speedy impeachment and 
removal of Andrew Johnson pom the office he dishonors and 
betrays, 1 

In April, Congress passed the first Civil Rights Act- John- 
son vetoed it, and it was re-passed over his veto* In June, the 

Joint Committee presented Congress with the Fourteenth 
Amendment. During the spring and summer there were race 
riots in New Orleans, Memphis and Norfolk, which fed 
Garrison's fear of a Southern counterrevolution directed by 
Johnson, "the guiltiest man in the nation." 14 He was afraid 
too that the President's Swing around the Circle, that a dis- 
graceful tour" of "a blackguard/' might detach Northern 


loyalties from the congressional plan of reconstruction. By 
October it was clear that the South had no intention of rati- 
fying the Fourteenth Amendment. He was puzzled by the 
fact that Phillips and Sumner also opposed the amendment 
because it did not give the Negro the vote. He could not 
understand such reasoning. "I mean to be careful not to find 
myself in agreement with the South in regard to any measure 
relating to her despised and injured frcedmen. At least, 
hitherto, I have always found reason to approve what she 
specially detests, and vice versa, and I still think it a very 
safe rule." 15 He was not alone in refusing to recognize the 
importance of the Negro ballot for Republican rule: with 
the exception of Phillips few politicians in the North in 1866 
saw its significance. It took the election of Grant to teach 
Republicans the usefulness of a quarter of a million black 

As the Radicals prepared to impeach Johnson, Garrison's 
calculations matched those of the congressional leaders. 
"Without the President is impeached," he wrote to Frank, 
"I do not see how any plan of reconstruction by Congress 
can be made available," 16 In January, 1867, he compiled a long 
article on impeachment for the Independent. When a people 
are prevented from calling their leader to account by their 
veneration for his office, he wrote, it is a sure sign of demo- 
cratic degradation. Why did Northerners shrink from Im- 
peachment? Why wait until Johnson multiplied his wicked 
designs? Congress, aware of the dangers of executive tyranny, 
was ready to act. "Happily, that body, as now constituted, 
is eminently loyal and patriotic, and represents no political 
party in the old sense of party only the PEOPLE, lifted above 
selfish consideration, and intent on saving the Republic from 
disruption." In attempting to be fair and just to the President, 
Congress had already carried magnanimity to questionable 


limits. As for Johnson, "there he sits, grasping unconstitutional 
power, bidding defiance to the popular will, recreant to his 
oath of office, determined to rule or ruin, contemptuous and 
hostile toward Congress, applauded and upheld by all that is 
treasonable in the land, detested and feared by all that is 
loyal, and with vast powers to carry out his desperate pur- 
poses." Two more years and who could predict the violence 
and blood he would bring on the land? 17 

Behind the President, Garrison saw demon Democracy 
breathing fire and brandishing the slave whip, a party of 
barbarism and brutality at war with God and nature, with 
Christ and freedom. "It is a party to be as much denounced as 
any combination of conspirators against God and the right 
that was ever organized on earth/' 18 This year of impeach- 
ment might have been 1828 and his words those of the young 
Federalist editor of the Journal of the Times. Forty years 
had not changed his fear of power. 

Before he died Lincoln had nearly fulfilled Garrison's tin- 
formulated ideal of the great man. His candor and tact, his 
uncanny political sense combined with a humanity and power 
for growth made him, both for Garrison and the people 
of the North, a national father, righteous, compassionate, 
friendly, wise and strong. Though he struggled against the 
magnetic force of Lincoln's personality, Garrison ended by 
succumbing to it. Lincoln's death removed the one hero in 
his life and replaced him with a lesser man who invited the 
kind of criticism at which he excelled, Andrew Johnson re- 
leased the destructive energy in him that Lincoln had been 
able to channel Even before Lincoln's ass&suution Garrison 
was shifting his allegiance to the side of the Radicals, but he 
never understood the confused motives of the congressional 
leaders, either the honest fanaticism of Stevens and Wade or 
the political designs of George Julian or Henry Wilson, He 


only sensed that their attack on Johnson stemmed from an 
urge to tear down the executive power, and he joined in 
attempting to demolish the office of President for the same 
reason he had fought authority all his life. The Radicals dis- 
covered his fear of power and used it for their own ends. 
Without Lincoln's guidance, and left to make his own way 
through the maze of Reconstruction politics, Garrison wan- 
dered aimlessly, willing to dynamite Johnson's road to re- 
union but unable to cut his own path to social equality. After 
twisting and turning, his devious route brought him to the 
great barbecue of the Gilded Age. 

In May, 1867, he sailed for Europe to join Fanny and Harry 
at the International Exposition in Paris. They returned to 
London in June for a public breakfast given in his honor by 
Bright, Buxton, Lord Houghton, John Stuart Mill, Earl Rus- 
sell, Herbert Spencer, Thomas Huxley and three hundred 
men of affairs who united in paying honor to the "great 
Champion" of American freedom. Then back to Paris for 
the International Anti-Slavery Conference and two days of 
speeches in a language he could not understand* Paris fairly 
overwhelmed him, "the central point of the world for all 
that is splendid, fashionable, sensual, and frivolous," Like 
Henry James's Americans, he approached the "spectacle" of 
Paris with caution, "It is 'Vanity Fair,' on a colossal scale," 
he reported to Helen, "as described by Bunyan in 'Pilgrims* 
Progress/ and full of temptations and allurements to those 
who tWnk only of present enjoyments, and forget all that 
relates to the immortal life*" 19 Even he found it difficult to be 
spiritually minded in Elysium* 

From Paris he set out on a tour of Switzerland and Ger- 
many, an American innocent's excursion with no or 
convmtions to interfere with the pleasure of sight-seeing* He 
stopped at Interiaken and Lucerne, "charming places both"; 


Zurich, "delightfully situated"; and Constance, "a remarkably 
quaint old town." At the gambling casinos outside of Ham- 
burg he watched the fashionable players hovering around the 
tables "spell-bound and greedy of gain. . . . It was to me an 
astounding spectacle, and most instructive and admonitory 
to watch the changing countenances of the players. It is 
among the most terrible of all human passions." In Heidelberg 
he roamed through old castles and along the battlements, but 
confessed to his wife that he much preferred Frankfurt, "the 
best we have yet seen, and the most American." 20 

In London he went to hear Gladstone and Bright debate 
the Electoral Reform Bill of 1867 and lunched with John 
Stuart Mill. There were visits to Birmingham, Sheffield, and 
Leeds, where he was welcomed enthusiastically. "I am re- 
peatedly told . . . that I do not appear to have grown a day 
older. . . . But it is my baldness, however, that looks as young 
as it did twenty-one years ago; 'only this, and nothing more/ " 
Newspapers in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Birming- 
ham carried accounts of his anti-slavery exploits, and every- 
where he went there were eager crowds and public entertain- 
ment. "If I had not long ago crucified myself to the opinions 
of men, I might be in peril of slumbering on enchanted ground 
for the rest of my life." 21 November saw him back in Boston, 

The nomination of Grant, a military leader with a supposed 
weakness for alcohol, hardly won Garrison's enthusiastic 
support, but the thought of Horatio Seymour at the head of 
a resurgent Democratic Party was enough to drive him into 
the general's camp. He tried to look beyond the candidates 
to the parties and human rights, the Republicans pledged to 
protect these rights, the Democrats determined to kill them. 
In the old days before the war it had been a question of 
banks, tariff, or free trade, but now Christianity itself was at 
stake and the witnesses for God had to speak out* 


Four years of corruption altered this view not at all. When 
Sumner indicted Grant for condoning financial scandals and 
protecting his friends, Garrison dismissed his charges as enor- 
mously exaggerated, the kind of rumor that could only give 
comfort to rebels and Copperheads. Nor did he consider 
Grant's nomination for a second term a poor choice. "On 
the contrary," he told Wendell, "I deem it immensely impor- 
tant to the welfare and repose of the country, in view of the 
impending crisis. As for Greeley and his Tribune, there is no 
language to describe their folly and baseness," 22 This time 
he did not hesitate to come out strongly for Grant. He 
warned Sumner that he must not be surprised "if a general 
belief obtains that you have unfairly availed yourself of op- 
portunities to work division in the Republican ranks. 1 * He 
promised to speak to the Negroes "with equal plainness" 
and urge them "by every consideration of their safety and 
happiness" to re-elect Grant, 23 

As the financial scandals of Grant's second term mounted, 
he flatly refused to believe the Republicans guilty of log- 
rolling or dishonesty. When the Belknap scandal broke, he 
announced that "a score of Belknaps will not make me be- 
lieve that the Republican party means to connive at official 
corruption," 24 The Republican Party was God's means of 
punishing the South. He gave Hayes his support in 1876 and 
never doubted that he had been honestly elected. Of the 
politics of Redemption he knew no more than he had about 
Jackson's war on the bank or Folk's Manifest Destiny. 

If he failed to understand postwar politics, he also took a 
narrow and astigmatic view of the Negro problem* The key 
to a general rehabilitation of the South he found in reeduca- 
tion "from primary school to college." To lift the South from 
moral degradation was the sublime mission of the North* 
"Cursed by her old slave system beyond all that imagination 


can depict or language express, she is both morally and intel- 
lectually incapable of self -recovery, and needs help in every 
way and of every kind." 25 Yet when Lee was made President 
of Washington College, Garrison objected strenuously to this 
kind of self-help. Was Lee converted by General Grant at 
the time of his surrender, he asked? Was Saul among the 

Out of the welter of confused opinions and misunderstand- 
ings there stood the irrefutable fact of his racial tolerance, 
In supporting the Civil Rights Act he protested against the 
omission of the clause ensuring integration of the public 

The common schools [he wrote in his finest editorial statement 
after the war] must be open to all and for all, whether white or 
black, whether native or foreign. Those who, for any reason, do 
not choose to avail themselves of its benefits, may consult their 
own choice or prejudice, as the case may be; but they must not 
make it subservient to their exclusiveness. To gratify them in 
this respect would be to lay the axe at the root of our free institu- 
tions and to engender animosities that no community can afford to 
tolerate. 26 

The words have a clarity and force which he seldom 
achieved and a logic hardly improved by the judicial opin- 
ions of another age. 

He pursued his various reform interests until the end of 
Ms life. In 1871 he voted for the first time since 1834, against 
the granting of liquor licenses. Phillips^ Prohibition Party, 
however, held no appeal for him; he saw no use in **a third 
wheel to the Mill" when there was scarcely enough nioral 
power to turn the wheels of the two major parties- Nor did 
he agree with Phillips that labor was the problem of the 
hour* He scoffed at the notion of the toiling masses exploited 
by irresponsible capitalists, "What have they to complain of 


in regard to constitution and laws for which they are not di- 
rectly responsible? . . . Is not the government of them, by 
them, and for them (ostracized womanhood excepted), to 
be moulded as they shall judge best? Or, if in any case it is 
not for them, upon whom rests the responsibility but them- 
selves? . . . Our danger lies in sensual indulgence, in a licen- 
tious perversion of liberty, in the prevalence of intemperance, 
and in whatever tends to the demoralization of the people." 27 
No reform issue was strong enough to draw his support away 
from the Republican Party. 

The woman's rights movement divided in 1869 when Susan 
B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, having failed to 
secure the vote in Kansas by constitutional amendment, de- 
cided to enter politics and chose the mountebank George 
Francis Train as their candidate for President Train's antics 
and unsavory reputation drove the more moderate feminists, 
led by Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone, to form the non- 
political American Woman Suffrage Association under the 
aegis of Henry Ward Bcechcr. Garrison accepted a vice- 
presidency in the new society and helped launch the Womwi$ 
Journal. He also served as president of the Massachusetts 
Woman's Suffrage Association, attended its conventions, and 
gave lectures throughout New England on the need to "re- 
store to woman that share of power . . , which has been 
wrested from her." With him it was still a question of male 
tyranny. Who gave men the authority to deny women the 
vote? By what right did they withhold it? Against the un- 
reasoning power of the male sex women would inevitably 
triumph- "No matter how many stubborn or stupid men may 
resist, no matter how many weak-minded or timorous women 
say nay, it will nevertheless be triumphant, adding new lustre 
to the nineteenth century." 218 

A lingering interest in free trade led him to accept an office 


in the American Free Trade League and to help organize the 
Revenue League of Boston. He readily admitted that he was 
only "a novice' 7 at the "details and statistics" of business, but 
hastened to add that the mysteries of government and finance 
were only the clever contrivances of "usurpers and dema- 
gogues." "There is nothing intricate in freedom, free labor, 
free institutions, the law of interchange, the measure of reci- 
procity." 20 It was simply class interest and human greed that 
confused the genial welfare with selfish gain. In his mind 
the rules of political economy and the precepts of Christian 
charity were still identical 

This same Christian universalism sustained his last crusade 
against the Chinese Exclusion Bill, in which he found "es- 
sentially the old anti-slavery issue in another form." In a 
letter to the New York Tribune written just before his 
death he explained for the last time the simple faith in racial 
equality and toleration that had been the central theme in his 
long career. "The Chinese are our fellow-rnen, and are en- 
titled to every consideration that our common humanity 
may justly claim. * . . Such of them as are seeking to better 
their condition, being among the poorer classes, by coming to 
these shores, we should receive with hospitality and kindness. 
... It is for them to determine what they shall eat, what 
they shall drink, and wherewithal they shall be clothed; to 
adhere to their own customs and follow their own tastes as 
they shall choose; to make their contracts and maintain their 
own rights; to worship God according to the dictates of 
their own consciences, or their idea of religious duty* . . . 
This is not a personal controversy . . but a plea for human 
brotherhood as against all caste assumptions and clannish 
distinctions." 80 The letter was a fitting epilogue to the anti- 
slavery drama. 

In 1876 Helen died. Desolate and ill. Garrison was unable 


to attend the funeral services conducted by Phillips, whose 
gesture of reconciliation touched him deeply. His own health 
was failing, and his friends, hoping that a sea voyage might 
improve it, suggested travel Accompanied by Frank, he 
spent the summer of 1877 m England but came home sad- 
dened by a last visit with George Thompson and the pros- 
pects of a lonely life in Roxbury. He attended seances 
regularly now, communing with the spirits of his wife and 
his old colleagues, whose messages he faithfully recorded for 
his children. His greatest pleasure came when Fanny brought 
her children to visit or he spent the holidays with them in 
New York. 31 Fanny took him to see Edwin Booth in Richelieu 
and Modjeska as Adrienne. A performance of Mignon only 
convinced him of the decline of American musical taste. 
He much preferred the songs and hymns which his grand- 
children sang. At home he busied himself with his still 
voluminous correspondence and projects for aiding the Ne- 
groes against the Southern Redeemers. In 1878 he made a 
last trip to Newburyport to visit the office of the Herald, 
where he set three sonnets with a dexterity that amazed the 
young apprentices who gathered around to watch. He still 
enjoyed the beauty of clean copy, 

He was busy raising money to relocate Negroes in Kan- 
sas when he fell ill in April, 1879. Fanny found him wasted 
and despondent when she came to take him home with her 
to Union Square in New York* There it was evident that he 
would not recover, and his family gathered at his bedside. 
In the evenings they would stand outside Ms door singing 
die old hymns he had taught them while he beat time feebly 
with his hand. On the night of May 21 the doctor, noticing 
a wave of his hand as if in dismissal, asked him what he 
wanted. "To finish it up!" he whispered. On the next day he 
fell into a coma and twenty-four hours later he died. 


Tlf T HEN GARRISON DIED in 1879, Reconstruction had ai- 
yy ready ended with Northern assent to the subordina- 
tion of the Southern Negro. Slavery was dead, but racial 
inequality and the belief in the inferiority of the black man 
lived on. The Civil War had proved a limited victory that 
preserved the Union but intensified race conflict, freed the 
slaves but returned them to the management of their former 
masters. Beset by the new doubts of a Darwinian age, the 
postwar generation began to reassess the idea of human per- 
fectibility and the message of liberation it had taught, Grad- 
ually the simple, buoyant faith in the perfectibility of man 
was giving way to a more sophisticated theory of evolution. 
Yet it was this belief in natural moral goodness perfection- 
ism which had formed the credo of ante-bellum America, 
provided the driving force of the anti-slavery movement, and 
sustained the pitch of Garrison's reform. It had also caused a 

All Americans before the Civil War shared in the per- 
fectionist dream in some way, for perfectionism promised 
the country a perpetually renewable innocence and vigor. 
Perfectionism meant freedom freedom from sin and guilt, 
freedom from the past and the burdens of history, freedom 
from institutions and power* What had Europe with its 
decadence and corruption to teach a young America? Left 


alone to flourish, the New World would produce a new 
race of men strong In their natural goodness and their com- 
mitment to total freedom. Perfectionism verified the American 
belief in the second chance. 

The signs of this perfectionist faith were everywhere in 
ante-bellum America: in the physical fact of the frontier; in 
the Jacksonian bias against institutions and corporate power; 
in the pervasive sense of the civilizing mission of Americans; 
in the concept of nature as a regenerative experience; in the 
legends and folklore of the people. There were two principal 
sources of American perfectionism: the Enlightenment tradi- 
tion of the American Revolution and the pietism of evan- 
gelical religion, the first a secular belief in progress trans- 
planted from Europe, the second a millennial expectation 
at the heart of American revivalism. Combined, these two 
powerful ideals of infinite progress and the equality of 
souls made an explosive compound of moral idealism. It was 
this idealism which the abolitionists discovered they shared 
with the people and which gave their argument its peculiarly 
effective appeal 

The anti-slavery movement itself sprang from a religious 
impulse and advanced with the Second Great Awakening; 
that is, it originated in a religious revival and remained 
primarily a religious crusade. Since it was chiefly Christian 
in its emphasis, it was subject to the two great poke forces 
in Christian thought the pull of pietism and the stress of 
social ethics. Pietism emphasizes the devotional ideal of 
religion, the desire for salvation and the achievement of 
holiness, Christian ethics, on the contrary, postulates a com- 
munity and the good life to be lived within it. Pietism tends 
to be sectarian, mystical, perfectionist It concentrates on the 
regenerative relation between God and the individual, on the 
inner experience of divine power. Thus it tends to be and- 



institutional and ascetic. By stressing the role of the indi- 
vidual conscience and making obedience to it the highest 
form of duty, it gives the true believer a new freedom from 
the rules and regulations of the world; but in stressing the 
idea of purity it is apt to be rigoristic and exclusive* The idea 
of a social ethic is in many ways its exact opposite adapt- 
able, humanistic, inclusive, an ideal of Christian life that 
takes account of organization and power. 

Both of these forces were at work within the anti-slavery 
movement from the beginning. The abolitionists knew very 
little about the institution of slavery. They approached the 
problem from the direction of regenerative experience through 
the avenue of conversion. Their strong Protestant individual- 
ism led them to treat slavery not simply as an inefficient labor 
system but as a betrayal of Christian values. They believed 
that slavery was inhuman because it denied God to the black 
man. They viewed slavery as a moral problem* It was not 
long, however, before some of them discovered the institu- 
tional complexities of the slavery problem. There were those 
like Garrison and his followers who persistently ignored 
these questions, but there were also those abolitionists like 
Birney, Stanton, and Leavitt who recognized the need for 
organization and policy^ As the anti-slavery enterprise grew 
it was exposed to the same tension between piety and ethics 
as its parent Christianity. 

The original American Anti-Slavery Society was both a 
sect and a church, a closed society of faithful saints and a 
wider community embracing all the people. Garrison's Decla- 
ration of Sentiments exemplified the underlying ambiguity of 
the anti-slavery program: it promised political action but 
enjoined moral reform; it demanded immediate emancipation 
but failed to define it; it preached pacifism but appealed to 
passion. Within a decade these twin forces had produced 


divergent strains of anti-slavery, one based on political action, 
the other on moral preaching. Both groups of abolitionists 
claimed that their program was the only true one, and each 
accused the other of abandoning the slave. Both were wrong. 
In reality, each group embodied an aspect of the abolitionist 
temperament and the religious mind, and each in its own way 
illustrated the problems of religious idealism and defined the 
limits of Christian reform* 

Both of these Christian strains found expression in William 
Lloyd Garrison, He wanted to abolish slavery and make a 
better world, but even more he wanted to avoid contamina- 
tion by keeping his own hands clean. In the face of mounting 
evidence to the contrary he clung to the illusion that anti- 
slavery and pacifism were not merely compatible but com- 
plementary. Most of the abolitionists had indulged in this 
hope in the beginning, but it did not take long to undeceive 
them. Garrison, however, refused to give up the fiction of 
peaceful revolution. Until the actual outbreak of war he 
declined to admit that a situation might arise which would 
require him to choose between peace and freedom for the 
slave. The Civil War may not have been inevitable, but after 
the Compromise of 1850 a peaceful solution to slavery grew 
less likely each day. It was just this fact that his critics tried 
to tell him that the pressure of events operating independ- 
ently of the will of the majority of Americans was dividing 
the country and making his prophecy of disunion come 
true. Garrison failed to understand the very forces he had 
let loose. For thirty years he cried havoc, and when it came, he 
refused to credit it and contented himself with his prophet's 
role, rousing the emotion of Northerners and Southerners yet 
disavowing their actions, creating an atmosphere of unreason 
and ignoring the consequences* In his uncompromising stand 
against both slavery and politics he personifies the great 


strength and the equally great weakness of radical reform, 
The radical reformer in American politics has been some- 
thing of a split personality, a nonconformist with authoritarian 
leanings who presents the community with a dilemma by 
recalling it to its ideals and rejecting its arguments for order 
and stability. In the strength of his nonconformity Garrison 
contributed significantly to an American tradition con- 
cerned with the integrity of minorities and the protection 
of civil liberties. His anti-slavery career illustrates the im- 
portance of minorities in a free society, the need to with- 
stand the pressure for conformity exerted by society and the 
willingness to be beaten rather than give hostages to majority 
opinion. Garrison believed that in the long run respect for 
law mattered less than concern for right. He considered poli- 
tics dirty business and looked on the man of average goodness 
as an enemy in disguise. With his convictions of racial 
equality, his iron determination in the face of overwhelming 
opposition, and his insistence on the right to hold and preach 
unpopular opinions he has a strong claim on the Aoierican 
liberal tradition. 

Nonconformity, however, is only one aspect of the radical 
temperament, and it was only a part of Garrison's mind* The 
other was distinctly authoritarian. Impulsive yet distrustful, 
seeking support but rejecting it when given, aggressive and 
undisciplined, demanding obedience but unable to accept it, 
he lacked the knowledge of men and the world that makes for 
leadership. His organization suffered grievously from his 
failings. When he did not try to do everything himself, he 
grudgingly delegated a task to a follower and then treated 
him as a threat to his ascendancy. His societies remained small 
because he refused to share power and tolerate possible 
rivals. Because he also lacked any administrative sense he 
convinced himself that it was unnecessary. His meetings and 
conventions were like religious revivals, spontaneous and dis- 


organized, and the Liberator especially suffered from his 
lack of method. The man who demanded order and authority 
in the new world he was making could not find it in his own 
life. His view of the world as a vast arena for the struggle 
between God and the devil, his tenacious anti-intellectualism, 
and above all, his vision of a perfect and self-regulating 
society of saints disclosed the longings of an authoritarian 
mind concerned with getting and using power over others, 

Inevitably the contradiction in Garrison's personality colored 
the cause to which he gave himself. Orestes Brownson, a 
tireless joiner of causes in his own right but also a shrewd 
observer, identified this contradiction when he noted that 
Garrison and the anti-slavery men had no just claim to the 
American civil rights tradition. "Moreover," he added, "the 
abolitionists do not, properly speaking, discuss the subject of 
slavery. Nay, it is not their object to discuss it. Their object 
is not to enlighten the community on the subject, but to 
agitate it. ... When men have made up their minds, when 
the epoch for deliberation has gone by, and that for action 
has come, when their object is less to convince than it is 
to rouse, to quicken, to inflame; then proceedings Hke those 
of the abolitionists are very appropriate," 1 

The abolitionists had made up their minds; they never 
doubted for a moment that slavery was wrong* Despite the 
complaints of Brownson and other critics, they succeeded in 
identifying their cause with the life of free society. They 
were the carriers, however unworthy at times, of perfection- 
ism and the ideals of democracy* They invoked the freedoms 
guaranteed by the Constitution and demanded that the 
people honor them and listen to their arguments. Yet their 
arguments, as Brownson quite rightly pointed out, were 
not the kind that could be discussed dispassionately. Their 
ideas were packed with high explosive and eventually des- 
troyed a community based on, slavery. The abolitionists found 


the majority wrong and demanded the liberty to say so. 
The liberty that Garrison and his followers dreamed of, how- 
ever, was an absolute liberty, a freedom that was neither 
brotherly nor Christian. It was this subversive ideal of 
liberty which, despite their professions of peace and Chris- 
tian love, led logically to war and the overthrow of slavery. 

This contradiction in the anti-slavery attitude was ex- 
pressed on a higher level in the changes Garrison and the 
abolitionists made in the doctrine of natural law. As they 
received it from the Declaration of Independence and first 
invoked it in self-defense, natural law meant a body of rights 
pragmatically determined and consonant with what was 
believed to be the nature of man. In the course of their fight 
against slavery the abolitionists changed the content while 
keeping the concept. Natural law, as Garrison came to use 
it, meant metaphysical truth, a divine spirit hovering over 
humanity. For the pragmatic Aristotelian they substituted 
a Christian faith in a universally valid spiritual criterion, 
Drained of its pragmatic content, natural law came to mean, as 
Justice Holmes once observed, anything that people are 
willing to fight for. The Civil War proved that the American 
people were willing to fight over slavery. 

The anti-slavery persuasion was marked by a final contra- 
diction which was the source of the abolitionists* great strength 
and tragic weakness. Their courage and their fierce sense of 
freedom blinded them to the realities of the power struggle 
and the consequences of freeing the slave. The very intensity 
of their belief prevented them from understanding fully 
what it lay in their power to do for the Negro. They wel- 
comed emancipation, but they were not ready for it and did 
not know how to use it. With the actual freeing of the 
slave their lack of understanding became increasingly apparent 
until finally anti-slavery radicalism broke down, 

If Garrison personifies the contradictions of American 


radical reform, his anti-slavery career illustrates the con- 
tinuing problem of moral absolutes in a democracy. A free 
society needs radicals with their moral absolutes just as ante- 
bellum Americans needed the abolitionists to tell them that 
slavery was wrong. But perfectionism the dream of a per- 
fect society of regenerate men' which sustained Garrison 
and his followers, rejected democratic politics and the idea 
of compromise, ignored programs and plans. By concentrating 
almost exclusively on the moral issue, appealing directly to 
individuals, and demanding immediate and wholesale change, 
it eliminated the very possibility of controlled change. With- 
out radicals to criticize it a democracy is not really free; 
with them it maintains a precarious existence. If it cannot 
afford to silence its critics, neither can American democracy 
ignore the dangers to its stability inherent in their insistent 
demand for a better world. 

"In every great fluctuation that takes place in human 
society/' John Jay Chapman wrote of Garrison and the Civil 
War, " whether it be a moral, a political, or even an indus- 
trial phenomenon, force converges upon some one man, 
and makes him the metaphysical center and thought-focus 
of the movement," Chapman was not equipped to probe the 
collective mind of ante-bellum America: the grandson of an 
abolitionist, he was too close temporally and temperamentally 
to the Emersonian Representative Man to see Garrison as he 
was. Garrison was not a heroic figure but, rather, Emerson's 
sufficient man, "an officer equal to his task." He knew the 
contradictions of his age experientially, which is to say that 
his weakness was in a sense an American weakness. He lacked 
the power of a leader and the surencss to shape his feelings and 
give direction to his beliefs. Not a Representative Man, he 
was yet a representative figure of American society before 
the Civil War whose single great achievement and equally 
great failure testify to the tragic meaning of history. 



1. WilHam Lloyd Garrison to Theodore Weld et /., March 17, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library, 

2. W. P. Garrison and F. J. Garrison, WllUaw Lloyd Q unison: The Story 
of His Life as Told by His Children, 4 vols. (New York, 1885-1889), I, 
12. (Hereafter cited as Life.) 

3. Contract between Joseph Garrison, William Saundcrs, and the firm of 
Sinionds & White, November 10, 1772, quoted in W, (). Raymond, "Se- 
lections from the Papers and Correspondence of James White, Esquire, 
A.D. 1762-1783," New Brunswick Historical Society Collcciltn^ I, 3 
(1897), 310. Simonds and White were Newtmryport merchants who 
played a leading part in opening the Saint John country. 

4. Andrew Lloyd and his wife, Mary Lawless Lloyd, are listed as inden- 
tured servants in the journal of Captain William Owen, R.N., the 
founder of the settlement at Campohello where the Lloyds lived for a 
time after their arrival. See W. F. Ganong, ""The Journal of Captain 
William Owen, RJNL, During his Residence on Campohello in 1770- 
1771," New Brunswick Historical Society Collect ion s> I, i (t%6), 194, 

5. For the story of the Nova Scotia revival see Maurice W, Armstrong, 
The Great Awakening in Nova Scotia (Hartford* Conn., 1948). 

6. Frances L. Garrison to her daughter, Maria Elizabeth Garrison, May 24, 
1820, quoted in Life, 1, 39. 

7. Abijah Garrison to Frances L. Garrison, April 22* 1804, Garrison Papers, 
Houghton Library. 

8. Abijah Garrison to his parents, April 4, 1805, Garrison Papm, Hough- 
ton Library. 

9. Abijah Garrison to Susannah Palmer, July 27, 1814, Garrison Papers, 
Houghton Library. 

10* Frances L. Garrison to Mrs* Martha Farnham, April 5, 1814* The letter 
is in the possession of Mr* Walter Mclntosh Merrill Farts of it* arc it- 
printed in his Behold Me Once More: The Confessions of J#tne$ Hollcy 
Garrison (Cambridge, Mass., 1954)* 10-11, fn. 

11. Frances L. Garrison to William Lloyd Garrison, August 29, 1817, 
quoted in Life, I, 33. 

12. Behold Me Once More (see note 10), 8. 

NOTES ^ ^_ 4 

13. Frances L. Garrison to William Lloyd Garrison, March 24, 1823, quoted 
in L*/e, 1, 48-49. 

14. Behold Me Once More (see note ro), 18, 

15. Frances L. Garrison to Mrs. Martha Farnham, April 18, 1816, quoted in 
Life, I, 32. 

1 6. William Lloyd Garrison to Frances L. Garrison, May 26, 1823, quoted 
in Life, 1, 49-50. 

17. William Lloyd Garrison, Address to the Franklin Club of Boston, 
October 14, 1878, Boston Public Libary. 


1. Manuscript letter from Joseph B Morss to Francis Jackson Garrison 
and Wendell Phillips Garrison and quoted by them in Life, I, 55. Morss 
was a fellow apprentice on the Herald. 

2. Manuscript of Charles J. Brockway quoted by the sons in Life, I, 56, fn. 

Brockway, two years younger than Garrison, took part in the debates 
of the Franklin Club* 

3. The quotation is taken from the last of a series of three editorials 
written by Garrison for the Herald in support of the gubernatorial 

candidacy of Harrison Gray Otis in 1823. See the Newburyport Herald, 

April 23, 1823, 

4. Timothy Pickering to Rufus King, March 4, 1804, quoted in Henry 
Adams, eti, Documents Relating to Netc England Federalism^ i8&o~~i$i$ 
(Boston, 1877), 351, 

5. Timothy Pickering to George Cabot, January 29, 1804, in Adams, New 
England Federalism, 340. 

6. Such was Garrison's description of Pickering in a letter to the Salem 
Gmtte, June 29, 1824. 

7. Newburyport Her aid ', May 21, 1822* 

8. Newburyport Herald^ May 31, 1822. 

9. William Lloyd Garrison to Frances L. Garrison, May 31, 1823, quoted 
in Lif G y 1, 49-50, 

10. North American Review, October 1820, 

ix. Frances L. Garrison to William Lloyd Garrison, May u, 1820, quoted 
in Life, I, 38* 

12. Newbwrypon Herald^ July 19, 1823* 

13. Garrison's editorials appeared under the title "Our Next Governor*' in 
the Ntmburyport Herald, March 14, April i, and April 3, 1823. 

14. Frances L. Garrison to William Lloyd Garrisoa, June 3, 1823, quoted in 
L*Y^I, 51. 

15. William Lloyd Garrison to Ephraim AEen, July 7, 1823, quoted in Life, 
I, 52- 

nl Salm Gtmm, July 27, 1824. 

17. New&uryport Herald^ May 17, 1825. 

1 8. Essex Cowmt) March 16", 1826* 

19* Newburyport Free Frew, March 22, 1824 

20. Free Press, March 22, 1826, 

21. Free Prm, April 13, 1826. 

22. Free Press* July 27, 1826* 

23. Free Press, June 8, 1826. 

462 NOTKS 

24. National Philanthropist , April n, 1828. 

25. Free Press, July 13, 1826. 

26. Free Press, September 21, 1826. 

27. Free Press, September 14, 1826. 


1. Lyman Beecher, Autobiography, 2 vols. ed., Charles Beecher, 2nd ed., 
(New York, 1886), I, 43. 

2. Journal of the Times, January 30, 1829. 

3. Liberator, 1:92, quoted in Life, I, 81. Garrison's sons, working from 
complete files of the paper, cited the volume and page number but not 
the date. 

4. Boston Courier, July 14, 1827. 

5. National Philanthropist, January 18, 1828. 

6. National Philanthropist, March 7, 1828. 

7. Journal of the Twnes, December 26, 1828. 
8* National Philanthropist, June 13, 1828. 

9. Genius of Universal Emancipation, October 23, 1829; National Philan- 
thropist, May 30, 1828. 
10. National Philanthropist, May 23, 1828. 
n. National Philanthropist, January 25, 1828. 

12. National Philanthropist, March 14, 1828. 

13. National Philanthropist, February i, 1828. 

14. National Philanthropist, February 29, 1828. 

15. National Philanthropist, May 16, 1828. 

1 6. National Philanthropist, February 8, February 29, 1818. 

17. National Philanthropist, April 18, 1828. 

1 8. National Philanthropist, January 25, 1828* 

19. National Philanthropist, June 13, 1828. 


1. National Philanthropist, January n, 1828* 

2. National Philanthropist, March 21, 1828. 

3. For King's speech see Annals of Congress, 16 Cong*, I Sest*, |8off. 

4. Edward Brown, Notes on the Origin and Necessity of Slmtcry (Charles- 
ton, 1826), 6, quoted in W. S. Jenkins, Pro-Slavery Thought in the Old 
South (Chapel Hill, 1935)* 73. 

5. "Address to the Legislature of South Carolina by GOT, Stephen D. 
Miller," printed in the Charleston Courier* November 28, 1819, and 
quoted in Jenkins, Pro-Slavery Thought, 76-77. 

6. National Philanthropist, July 4, 1828* 

7. Garrison's speech at the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery 
Society in 1864. ^ e Proceedings of the Ammcm Anti-Skmry 

at its Third Decade (New York, 1864), m. 

8. Journal of the Times, October 3, 1828* 

9. Journal of the Times, October 3, 1828* 
10. Jowmal of the Tim&s, February 27, 1829. 
n, Jowmal of the Times, October 17, 1828. 
12. Journal of the Times^ January 30, 1819. 

NOTES 463 

13. Journal of the Times, February 20, 1829. 

14. Journal of the Times, October 10, 1828. 


1. William Lloyd Garrison to Jacob Horton, June 27, 1829, quoted in Life, 
I, 124-126. 

2. Idem. 

3. Thomas Jefferson, Nous on Virginia in Basic Writings of Thomas 
Jefferson, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York, 1944), 144-148. 

4. See Joseph Tracy, "Historical Discourse," Memorial of the Semi-Ccn- 
tennial Anniversary of the American Colonization Society (Washington, 
D.C.), 66. 

5. See H. N. Sherwood, "The Formation of the American Colonization 
Society," The Journal of Negro History, II, 3, 221222. 

6. Clay's speech was reported in the National Intelligencer, January 2, 
1817. See also Archibald Alexander, A History of Colonization on the 
West Coast of Africa (Philadelphia, 1849), 77-$*. 

7. Randolph's speech is quoted in Joseph Tracy, A View of Exertions 
Lately Made for the Purpose of Colonizing the Free People of Color in 
the United States (Washington, 1817), 46*. 

8. American Colonization Society First Annual Report, 8, quoted in Sher- 
wood, "Formation of the American Colonization Society," The Journal 
of Negro History, II, 3, 213. 

9. Robert Goodloe Harper, speech at the Seventh Annual Meeting of the 
American Colonization Society, Seventh Annual Report (1823). 

10. The figures are given in Early Lee Fox, The American Colonization 
Society , x#i7~t8<(fo (Baltimore, 1919), 89* 

11. The text of the Park Street address is given in the Old South Leaflets 
(General Series, v, 8, No. 180), 

12. Genius of Universal Emancipation* September 2, 1829. 

13. Qenius of Universal Emancipation, October 30, 1829. 

14. George Bourne, The Book and Slavery Irreconcilable (Philadelphia, 
1816), quoted In Alice Dana Adams, The Neglected Period of Anti- 
Slavery in America (Boston, 1908), 81. 

15. Qenius of Universal Emancipation, October 9, 1829. 

1 6. Qenius of Universal Emancipation, December 4, 1829. 

17. Qenius of Universal Emancipation, October 9, 1829. 

1 8. Qenius of Universal Emancipation, October 23, 1829. 

19. Genius of Universal Emancipation, November 20, 1829. 

20. Qenius of Universal Emancipation, March 5, 1830. 

21. Idem, 

22. William Lloyd Garrison to Harriet Farnham Morton, May 12, 1830, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

23. Arthur Tappan to Benjamin Lundy, May 29* 1830* quoted in Life y I, 


i. For the story of Arthur Tappan's part in the American reform move- 
ment see Lewis Tappan, The Life of Arthur Tappan (London, 1870). 

464 NOTES 

2. Tappan, Arthur Tappan, 127-128. 

3. Arthur Tappan to William Lloyd Garrison, September 12, 1831, quoted 
in Life, I, 237, fn. 

4. Arthur Tappan to Lewis F, Laine, Secretary of the Andover Theo- 
logical Seminary Anti-Slavery Society, March 26, 1833, quoted in Tap- 
pan, Arthur Tappan, 128-130. 

5. Tappan, Arthur Tappan, 163* 

6. "Proposals for Publishing a weekly periodical in Washington City, to he 
entitled The Public Liberator and Journal of the limes," quoted in 
Life, I, 199-202. 

7. For a discussion of the Hicksite schism see Bliss Forbush, Ettas Hicks, 
Qmker Liberal (New York, 1956). 

8. The sermon is quoted in L. C. M, Hare, The Greatest American 
Woman (New York, 1937), 61. See also Otelia Cromwell, Lvcretia Mott 
(Cambridge, Mass., 1958), ch. X. 

9. Liberator, 19: 178, quoted in Life, I, 204. 

10. Memoir of Samuel Joseph May, ed. T. J. Mumford (Boston, 1873), 143, 
n. Samuel J. May, Recollections of Our Anti-Slavery Conflict (Boston, 

1869) ; Memoir, 147148. 
12. "To the Public," Liberator, January i, 1831, 


1. William Lloyd Garrison to Samuel J. May, February 14, 1831, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

2. Idem* 

3. Liberator, 1:145, quoted in Life, I, 236-237. 

4. Liberator, 1:49, quoted in Life, I, 227. 

5. Liberator, 1:145, quoted in Life, I, 235. 

6. Liberator, 1:139, quoted in Life, I, 235* 

7. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, October 19, 1831, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library, 

#. "Universal Emancipation," Liberator, January 8, 1831, 
9. David Walker, Appeal (Boston, 1829), 30-35. 

10. Genius of Universal Emancipation, January 15, 1830. 

n. William Lloyd Garrison to LeRoy Sundcrland, September $ 1831, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

12. Qtis's letter first appeared in the autumn of 1833 " m tnis Botton Ad" 
vertiser; see also Niles Register, September 14, 1833, and Ufa 1, 242-244. 

13. Liberator, October 28, 1831* 

14. See Life, I, 247-248. 

15. Liberator, 1:207, quoted in Life, 1, 249. 

16. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, September atf, 1831, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

17. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, November XA, 1831, Gar* 
rison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

18. Liberator, 2:25, quoted in Life, I, 279. 

19. William Lloyd Garrison to Ebenezer Dole, June 29, 1832, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library, Dole was a minister in Hallowell, Maine, 
and an early supporter of the Liberator* 

20. Idem. 

NOTES 465 

21. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, July 21, 1832, Garrison 

Papers, Boston Public Library. 

22. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, May 12, 1832, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library, 

23. Liberator \ July 9, November 19, 1831, 

24. Address before the Free People of Color, June, 1831 (Boston, 1831), 3, 

25. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, July 30, 1831, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

26. Thoughts on African Colonization (Boston, 1832), 2. G. H. Barnes 
holds that Garrison's pamphlet derived chiefly from Charles Stuart's 
tracts, Is Slavery Defensible from Scripture? (Belfast, 1831) and The 
West India Question, which first appeared in the British Quarterly 
Magazine and Review for April, 1832, when Garrison had nearly com- 
pleted his Thoughts, The West India Question, however, ran through 
several editions on both sides of the Atlantic, and Garrison read it 
thoroughly. In a letter to Theodore Weld, Eli/air Wright, then Pro- 
fessor of Mathematics at Western Reserve College In Hudson, Ohio, 
refers to a copy of Stuart's West India Question received from Gar- 
rison. "Today 1 am obliged to you for another, the West India Ques- 
tion. It is very seasonable, for a copy of the same, which I received 
from Mr. Garrison some time since, has quite worn itself out with hard 
service." Wright also credits Garrison's Thoughts with converting 
William Goodell to irnmediafism, G. H, Barnes, IX L, Dumond (eds.), 
The Weld-Griwk6 Letters (New York, 1934), 2 vols*, I, 102103. ^ n 
addition to the two tracts mentioned above Stuart wrote several other 
anti-colonization pamphlets: Rcwarks on the Colony of Liberia and the 
American Colonization Society (London, 1832); A Letter on the Ameri- 
can Colonization Society (Birmingham, 1832); Prejudice Vincible (Lon- 
don, 1832); Liberia^ or the AtHwic&n Colonization Scheme Further Un- 
ravelled (Bath, n. d.) It is difficult to believe that any of Stuart's work 
published in England in 1832 arrived in this country in time to influence 
the preparation of Thoughts^ which was in its final stages by April of 
that year. Moreover, if my reading of Garrison's Park Street address is 
correct, the question of priority (for what it is worth) would seem 
solved. After the publication of Thoughts Garrison became thoroughly 
familiar with all of Studrt*s work as well as with the man himself, whom 
he found eccentric but well-meaning. During one of his absences from 
Boston he attempted to interest Stuart in managing the Liberator, but 
Stuart refused. Garrison was inclined to dismiss Stuart's lectures as of 
less value than his writings. 

27. Thoughts, 8. 

28* Thoughts $ 149. The italics are Garrison's, 

29. Thoughts, 8. 

30. Thoughts, 1 1 8* 

31. Thoughts, 119. 

32. William Lloyd Garrison to Reverend Ebenezer Dole, Hallowell, Maine, 
June 29, 1832,. Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. Garrison objected, 
however, to the bright-colored clothes and jewelry worn by the 
Negroes, "I regret to say that it is too true that a passion for gaudy 
finery is too prevalent among our colored population; but thfe is 
naturally created and inflamed by their degraded situation, which leads 

466 NOTES 

them to imitate and surpass la folly those who arc on a higher level than 
themselves. This is another reason why prejudice should expire, and 
slavery be abolished; for as soon as they are enlightened, and made 
virtuous, they will despise that in which they now take the most de- 
light." Letter to his wife, May 30, 1839. 

33. Thoughts, 79. 

34. Thoughts, So. 

35. William Lloyd Garrison to Robert Purvis, December 10, 1832, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

36. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, July 21, 1832, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 


/'*% William Lloyd Garrison to Miss Harriet Minot, April 22, 1832, Garrison 
(^ Papers, Boston Public Library. 

2. William Lloyd Garrison to Isaac Knapp, April 11-17, 1833, quoted in 

. Life, I, 341-42. 
(j> Liberator, 3:39, quoted in Life, I, 329. 

4. Abolitionist, I, 88-89, quoted in Barnes, Anti-Slavery Impulse, 220-221. 

5. Garrison published an account of the testimonial breakfast given to him 
by his English friends. The pamphlet, London Breakfast to William 
Lloyd Garrison, contains the anecdote of his meeting with Buxton (p* 
38) which is also given in Life, I, 351. 

6. New England Anti-Slavery Society Second Annual Report (Boston, 
1833), 44. 

7. Second Annual Report, 47. 

8. Quoted in Barnes, Anti-Slavery Impulse ^ 221, 

9. The Exeter Hall address appeared in the Liberator^ the London 
Patriot, and selections from it in several New York papers* The letter 
to the London Patriot is the first of two letters dated July 22 and 
August 6, and is quoted in Oliver Johnson, William Lloyd Owrison and 
His Times (Boston, 1885), 2nd ed., 132. 

10. He published Macaulay's letter in the Liberator immediately upon his 
return. See Life, 1, 377-378. 

11. See Charles Grandison Finney, Lectures on Revivals (New York, 1835)* 
275-276. The best discussion of Finney's theology is William G. Me- 
Loughlin, Modern Revivalism (New York, 1959), chs* I-IL 

u, Wright's letter to Garrison was published in the Liberator > January 5, 

13. Elizur Wright to Theodore Weld, December 7, 1832, WddQrimM 
Letters, I, 94-96. The effects of Garrison's arguments in the Liberator on 
Green and Wright are seen in the account Wright furnishes of Green's 
lectures. He continues: "From the first he [ Green] derived the doctrine 
that philanthropists should base their efforts on a clear distinction be- 
tween right and wrong; from the second, that every succeeding genera- 
tion that copies the sins of its predecessors becomes more guilty in the 
sight of God: and from the third, that when men seek their own will, 
their judgment is worthy of little confidence, or in other words that 
prejudice unfits a man to testify or decide concerning the character of 
another." It is clear that Wright, Storrs, and Green converted Weld to 

NOTES 4<>7 

anti-slavery using Garrison's arguments which they read in the Liberator. 
A month before he visited Hudson in the fall of 1832 Weld wrote to 
James Birney that he was "ripe in the conviction that if the Coloniza- 
tion Society does not dissipate the horror of darkness which overhangs 
the southern country, we are undone. Light breaks in 'from, no other 
quarter" Weld to Birney, September 27, 1832, Dwight L. Dumond ed., 
Letters of James Gillespie Itirney, 1831-1$ '57 (New York, 1938), 2 vols., 

14. Wright to Weld, December 7, 1832, W cld-Grimke Letters, I, 96. 

15. Theodore Weld to William Lloyd Garrison, January 2, 1833, Weld- 
Grimke Letters, I, 97-99. 

1 6. Garrison collected the unfavorable notices of his return to New York 
and printed them in the Liberator, 3; 16 1. See Life, 1, 380-382. 

17. Liberator, 3; 63, quoted in Life, I, 387-388. 

1 8. Liberator ~, 3: 179, and preface to the pamphlet Speeches in Exeter Hall 
(Boston, 1833), quoted in Life, I, 388-390. 

19. William Lloyd Garrison to George W. Benson, November 2, 1833, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

20. Circular of the Friends of Immediate Emancipation in Boston, Provi- 
dence, New York and Philadelphia, signed by Arthur Tappan, Joshua 
Leavitt, Elizur Wright, calling a convention in Philadelphia for Decem- 
ber 4, 1833, to form a national society. A copy of the circular which 
was mailed to Weld is reprinted in the Wcld-GrimM Letters, I, 117-118. 

21. Eli'/ur Wright, Jr. to Theodore Weld, November 2, 1833, Weld-Grimke 
Letters, I, 119. 

22. Lewis Tappan's remarks were published in the Abolitionist, I, 181, and 
excerpted in Life, I, 402-405. 

23. Samuel J. May, Recollections^ 86ff. 

24. The story of Garrison's debt is told in Barnes, Anti-Slavery Impulse, 56- 


25. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Beason, February 26, 1834, Garrison 

Papers, Boston Public Library. 

26. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, September 12, 1834, Garrison 
Papep, Boston Public Library* 

27. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, February 26, 1834, Garrison 

Papers, Boston Public Library. 


1. The courtship correspondence is part of the Villard Papers in the 
Houghton Library collection. Sec also Walter Mclntosh Merrill, "A 
Passionate Attachment," New England Quarterly, XXIX, 2 (June, 
1956), 182203. 

2. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Eliza Benson, March 25, 1834. 

3. Helen Eliza Benson to William Lloyd Garrison, March 21, 1834* 

4. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Eliza Benson, March 25, 1834. 

5. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Eliza Benson, March 26, April 24, 
April 25, 1834. 

<5. Helen Eliza Benson to William Lloyd Garrison, May 3, 1834, 

7* William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Eliza Benson, June 2, 1834. 

8. Helen Eliza Benson to William Lloyd Garrison, quoted in Walter Me- 

Intosh Merrill, "A Passionate Attachment," New England Quarterly, 

XXIX, 2, 200. 

9. William Lloyd Garrison to Anna Benson, October 9, 1834, Garrison 

Papers, Boston Public Library. 
10. In April, 1834, Garrison and Knapp published a pamphlet, Shall the 

Liberator Die? explaining their financial situation and appealing 1 for 

u . Henry Ware to Samuel J. May, October 15, 1834, in Memoir of Henry 

Ware, quoted in Life, I, 462. 

12. Eiizur Wright, Jr. to Theodore Weld, September 5, 1833, Weld-Qrimk& 
Letters, I, 114-117. 

13. When Stuart visited the Benson household in the late spring of 1834, 
Helen reported her conversation with him in a letter to Garrison, June 
23, 1834. Villard Papers, Houghton Library. 

14. The announcement of the Amherst Society was printed in the Liberator, 
August 3, 1833. 

15. Liberator, 4:207, quoted in Life, I, 458-462. 

1 6. Weld-Grimke Letters, I, 260-262. 

17. Liberator, August 15, 1835. 

18. Prudence Crandall to William Lloyd Garrison, January 18, 1833, quoted 
inLiftf, I, 315-316. 

19. William Lloyd Garrison to Isaac Knapp, April n, 1833, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

20. William Lloyd Garrison to George W. Benson, March 8, 1833, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

21. William Lloyd Garrison to George Benson, June i<5, 1834, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

22. Garrison reprinted Arthur Tappan's letter in the IMtcrat&r^ January 31* 

23. Lewis Tappan's letter, dated January 26, 1835, appeared with his 
brother's in the Liberator, January 31, 1835. 

24. Liberator, July 4, 1835. 

25. Liberator, August 29, 1835. 

26. Liberator, 5:139, quoted in Life, I, 503. 

27. Liberator, July 25, 1835, 

28. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, September 3, 1835, quoted in 
Life, I, 516. 

29. The best account of the Boston mob which incorporates the several eye- 
witness reports is in Life, I, ch. XIV; II, eh, L 

30. "Picture of the American Mind in 1835,'* UberatM, November 14, 1835, 

31. "William Lloyd Garrison," in The Selected Writings of John jay Chap- 
man, cd. Jacques Barzun (New York, 1957), 54-55. 


1. William Lloyd Garrison to Anna Benson, November 27* 1835, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

2. William Lloyd Garrison to Samuel May, December 26, 1835, quoted in 
Life, 11, 66. 

3. Liberator, February 27, t$$6, 

4. Ajnos A, Phelps to William Lloyd Garrison, December 10, 1835, Quoted 

NOTES 469 

in Life, II, 62-63. Garrison was prepared to condemn Channing's book 
before he read it. "Well, it is announced that the great Dr. Channing 
has published his thoughts upon the subject of slavery! of course, we 
must now all fall back, and 'hide our diminished heads.' The work I 
will not condemn until I peruse it; but I do not believe it Is superior 
either in argument or eloquence to many of our own publications. . . . 
The hosts of abolitionists in Great Britain and this country have spoken 
and written in vain- but now Dr. Channing speaks, listen ye heavens! 
and give ear, oh earth! It was not in the power of Jesus Christ, but it is 
in the power of Dr. Channing, to rebuke sin and sinners, without excit- 
ing their 'bad passions'! Wonderful!" Letter to Samuel J. May, Decem- 
ber 5, 1835, Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

5. Garrison's speech was reported in the Liberator and is quoted in Life, 
II, 104, 

6. Liberator, April 16, 1836. 

7. Liberator, December 20, 1834. 

8. Liberator, December 27, 1834. 

9. Liberator, December 20, 1834. 

10. William Lloyd Garrison to David Lee Child, August 6, 1836, Garrison 

Papers, Boston Public Library. 
n . William Lloyd Garrison to George Benson, April 10, 1836, quoted in 

Life, II, 82, fn. 

12. Liberator, October 29, 1836. 

13. WilMam Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, January 16, 1836, quoted in 
Life, II, 84-85. 

14. William Lloyd Garrison to Geoge Benson, January u, 1836, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

15. Liberator, July 23, 1836. 

1 6. William Lloyd Garrison to Effingham L. Capron, August 24, 1836, 

Garrison Papers, B'Oston Public Library. 
17. William Lloyd Garrison to Samuel J. May, September 23, 1836, Gar- 

rison Papers, Boston Public Library. 
1 8. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Benson, December 17, 1836, Garrison 

Papers, Boston Public Library* 
19. For Noycs's own account of his religious experiences and an exposition 

of his theological as well as his social doctrine see Religious Experiences 

of John Humphrey Noyes, ed. George WalEngford Noyes (New York, 

20* The quotation and the ones that follow are from Noyes* letter to 

Garrison, March 22, 1837, quoted in Life, II, 145-148. 
21* William Lloyd Garrison to Henry C. Wright, April i$ 1837, Garrison 

Papers, Boston Public Library* 

22. Liberator, July 18, 1837. 

23, Garrison's poem, "True Rest," appeared in the Liberator, August 25, 
1837. The quotations that follow are from the Liberator, June 23, 1837. 


1. Sarah Grimke" to Theodore Weld, June n 1837, Weld-GrimkS Letters, 

2. Liberator, June 9, 1837* 



3. Liberator, June 23, 1837. 

4. Idem. 

5. Sarah Grimke to Theodore Weld, June n, 1837, Weld-Grknke Letters, 
I, 401. 

6. Angelina Grimke to Theodore Weld and John Greenleaf Whittier, 
September 20, 1837, Weld-Grimk Letters^ I, 428. 

7. Theodore Weld to Sarah and Angelina Grimke, August 26, 1837, Weld- 
Grimke Letters, I, 434. 

8. Sarah and Angelina Grimke to Henry C. Wright, September 27, 1837, 
Weld-GrimM Letters, I, 438. 

9. Sarah Grimk6 to Henry C. Wright, August 12, 1837, Weld-Qrhnke 
Letters, I, 420. 

10. The Pastoral Letter was published in the Liberator, August n, 1837. 

ix. The "Clerical Appeal" first appeared in the New England Spectator and 
was reprinted in the Liberator with the Pastoral Letter. Two of the 
ministers, Charles Fitch and Joseph Towne, published a second appeal, 
"Protest of the Clerical Abolitionists," which Garrison printed in the 
Liberator, September 8, 1837. 

12. Liberator, August 18, 1837. 

13. Woodbury's letter appeared in the New England Spectator, August 17, 

14. Liberator, September i, 1837. 

15. Henry B. Stanton to James G. Birney, September *, 1837, Letters of 
James Gillespie Birney, i$$i~i8fi 9 ed. D wight L. Dumond, 2 vols. (New 
York, 1938), I, 420-423. 

16. Lewis Tappan to Willi m Lloyd Garrison, September 21, 1837* quoted 
in Life, II, 163166. 

17. Birney published his views on the affair of the clerical appeal in 
Gamaliel Bailey's Philanthropist, September 15, 1837, copied in the 
Liberator, 7:161. See Life, II, 166, fn. Privately Birney wrote to Lewis 
Tappan, "I greatly lament the course Mr. Garrison seems to be taking. 
I have been disappointed in him. In the emergency he may bring upon 
us, the Ex. Com. must not only be prudent but firm* I considered the 
matter over, and thought it well to publish in relation to the Boston 
controversy what you will see in the next PhiFst. It will have a 
tendency if any thing that I can say will, to mitigate his fury, and keep 
the other party from rash action, I have chosen this course, in prefer- 
ence to writing to the latter individually, as I could not do it, under the 
pressure of rny preparations for removal in the manner I wished, (Inter 
nos) I have no expectation that G. can be reduced to moderation, and I 
am not prepared to say, that his departure from us may not be the best 
thing he could do for the cause of Emancipation, 1 * September 14, 1837, 
Birney Letters, I, 425. Birney's letter in the Philanthropist marked the 
beginning of his feud with Garrison. Garrison commented on Birney's 
letter in the Liberator, October 20, 1837. 

18. Garrison quoted Wright's letter in his own letter to George Benson, 
September 23, 1837, the full text of which appears in Lifts II, t6j^tya* 
Wright sent Garrison a second letter in which he criticized his per- 
fectionist views. "* . . I have never yet met with a man who was free 
from sin. I am obliged to reject your own claim to sinlessness* Your very 
letter refutes it. Hence I am obliged to reject your theory,, or to believe 

NOTES 471 

that the gospel has never done its appropriate work within the range 
of my observation*" Wright to Garrison, November 6, 1837, quoted in 
Life, II, 178-181. As soon as she read the clerical appeal, Maria Wcston 
Chapman dashed off a letter to Wright informing him of "the absolute 
necessity of holding by Garrison with a giant grasp." Wright refused to 
take sides* "Nor can 1 see," he added, "how Garrison stands in any need 
of our aid- for he seems to have left his enemies thrice dead behind 
him, even if he has not killed some of his friends. The truth is that as 
much as I regretted and abominated the 'appeal' and I did so most 
cordially I was sorry to see Garrison 8c Phclps expend upon it those 
annihilating batteries which ought to have been directed to another 
quarter. . . . We gain nothing by stopping to punish 'traitors 7 much 
less vacillating and cowardly friends." Mrs. Chapman's letter is undated. 
Wright's reply is dated September 15, 1837. Weston Papers, Boston 
Public Library. 

19. William Lloyd Garrison to George W. Benson, September 23, 1837, 
quoted in Life, II, 167-170, 

20. Theodore Weld to Sarah and Angelina Grimke", August 26, 1837, Weld- 
Grimke Letters, I, 434. 

21. Liberator, December 15, 1837. 

22. Angelina Grimke to Weld and John Greenleaf Whittier, September 20, 
1837, Weld~Grhnke Letters, I, 430. Sarah agreed. "I must confess my 
womanhood is insulted, my moral feelings outraged when I reflect on 
these things, and I am sure I know just how the free colored people 
feel towards the whites when they pay them more than common at- 
tention; it is not paid AS at EIGHT, but given as a BOUNTY on a little more 
than ordinary sense. There is not one man in 500 who really under- 
stands what kind of attention is alone acceptable to a woman of pure 
and exalted moral and intellectual worth." Letter to Theodore Weld, 
September 12, 1837, Weld~Qrimk$ Letters, I, 415. 


1. Liberator, November 24, 1837, 

2. "Prospectus for Volume Eight,** Liberator, December 15, 1837. 

3. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, September 21, 1838, Gar- 
rison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

4. The full text of the Declaration of Sentiments appears in Life, II, 230- 

5. Edmund Quincy to William Lloyd Garrison, September 21, 1838, 
quoted in Life, II, 234-236. 

6. William Lloyd Garrison to Samuel Jf. May, September 24, 1838, quoted 
in Life, II, 236-237. 

7. Liberator, October xz, 1838. 

8. Ladd's letter to Garrison appeared in the Liberator, November 23, 1838. 
Garrison commented, "Mr. Ladd is content to stop at the millennium! 
So are we and at nothing short of it." 

9. Scott's first letter to Garrison was printed in the Liberator along with 
Garrison's reply on October 26, 1838. 

10. Scott's rejoinder and Garrison's second reply appeared ia the Liberator, 
November 1 6, 1838. 

47 2 

11. Liberator, December 7, 1838. 

12. William Lloyd Garrison to George Benson, January 5, 1839, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

13. These resolutions were first introduced by Alanson St. Glair and Na- 
thaniel Colver at Fitchburg on January 3, 1839. Garrison published 
them in the Liberator, January n, 1839. 

14. William Lloyd Garrison to George Benson, January 14, 1839, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

15. The account of the annual meeting is given in the report edited by 
Maria Weston Chapman under the title Right and Wrong in Massa- 
chusetts^ 1839. The most devoted of Garrison's followers, Mrs. Chapman 
edited the entire series of Right and Wrong reports (1836-1840), 

1 6. Henry B. Stanton to James G. Birney, January 26, 1839, Birney Letters, 

I, 481-483. 
17. William Lloyd Garrison to Mary Benson, March 3, 1839, quoted in 

Life, II, 281, 
1 8. William Lloyd Garrison to George Benson, March 26, 1839, Garrison 

Papers, Boston Public Library. 

19. Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Meeting of the American Anti$lav<!ry 
Society (New York, 1839), 30. 

20. Proceedings, 40, 

21. See the account of the New England Convention in the Liberator, 
June 7, 1839. 

22. James G. Birney, A Letter on the Political Obligations of Abolitionists 
. . . With a Reply by William Lloyd Q&rrison (Boston, 1839), 

23. Liberator, September 13, 1839. 

24. The circular was first printed in the Emancipator, July 24, 1839. Gar- 
rison published it in the Liberator, August 2, 1839. 

25. Wright's letter, written from Dorchester on October ra, 1839, was 
finally published in the Abolitionist after the Massachusetts Abolition 
Society had disavowed It. In the Liberator of November 29 Garrison 
demanded that Wright publish it, and he himself reprinted it on De- 
cember 6. 

26. Liberator, December 13, 1839* 


1. William Lloyd Garrison to George Benson, September 30, 1839, quoted 
in Life, II, 329. 

2. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, May 19, 1840, quoted in 
Life, II, 357-358. 

3. William Lloyd Garrison to Elizabeth Pease, May 15, 1841, quoted in 
Life, II, 331-332, 

4. William Lloyd Garrison to George Benson, January 4, 1840, Gtrrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

5. Henry C. Wright to William Lloyd Garrison, February 20, 1840* quoted 
in Life, II, 339-340* 

6. See the account of the meeting in the Liberator, March 20, 1840* 

7. The quotation is from the Philanthropist, May 5, 1840, Earle replaced 
LeMoyne who had declined the Warsaw nomination, 

8. Liberator, February 14, February 21, 1840* 

9. Garrison printed the "Address" in the Liberttt&r, February 28, 1840, 

NOTES 473 

10. Liberator ' 3 March 13, 1840. 

11. Liberator, March 27, 1840. 

12. Liberator, April 3, 1840. 

13. Liberator, April 10, 1840. 

14. Liberator, April 17, 1840. 

15. Garrison's account of the trip appeared in the Liberator, May 15, 1840. 

1 6. See Garrison's account of the meeting, Liberator, May 15, May 22, 1840. 
The figures arc his. 

17. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, May 15, 1840, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library, 

18. Lewis Tappan to Theodore Weld, May 26, 1840, Weld-Grimke Letters, 
II, 836. 

19. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, May 19, 1840, quoted in 
Life, II, 357-358. 

20. See Lucretia Mott's diary of her visit, Slavery and "The Woman Ques 
tion," ed. Frederick B. Tolles (London, 1952), 29-31. 

21. See Garrison's and Rogers's accounts in the Liberator, August 14, August 
21, 1840. 

22. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, June 29, 1840, quoted in 
Life, II, 381-382. 

23. James Birney to Lewis Tappan, July 23, 1840, Birney Letters, II, 584. 

24. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, June 29, 1840, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library, 

25. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, July 23, 1840, quoted in 
Life, II, 397. 

26. Garrison did not publish an account of the meeting until December 18, 
1840, when a Scotch Chartist named Charles McEwan wrote an open 
letter to him warning him not to imitate abolitionists in Scotland "who 
neglect their own country and attend to strangers." Garrison replied 
to McEwan in the same issue of the Liberator and again made the dis- 
tinction between slavery as a legal institution and incidental economic 

27. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Wright, December 16, 1843, ^ ar ~ 
rison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

28. William Lloyd Garrison to Samuel J. May, September 6, 1840, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

29. William Lloyd Garrison to Elizabeth Pease, September 30, 1840, Gar- 
rison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

30. John A. Collins to William Lloyd Garrison, September x 1840, quoted 
in Life, II, 414. 

31. Liberator, November 6, 1840. 

32. William Lloyd Garrison to John A. Collins, October 16, 1840, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library, 

33. Liberator, October 30, November 13, 1840. 

34. "The Chardon Street Convention/* Collected Works (Boston, 1833) X, 

35. The caU was printed in the Liberator, October id, 1840, 

36. William Lloyd Garrison to George Benson, November i, 1840, quoted 
in Life, II, 423-424, 

37. Liberator, February 5, 1841. 

38. Such at least was Emerson's conclusion. 




1. Writings of Nathaniel P. Rogers, quoted in Life, III, 22. 

2. Edmund Quincy to Richard D. Webb, June 27-July 2<5, 1843, quoted in 
Life, III, 82-83. 

3. Sidney H. Gay to Edmund Quincy, August 21, 1844, Garrison Papers, 
Boston Public Library. A young man of thirty at the time, Gay was a 
member of an old Boston family and a friend of Phillips and Quincy, 
When the Childs resigned from the Standard, he took over as editor 
along with Quincy and Mrs. Chapman. 

4. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, November 27, 1842, quoted 
in Life, III, 67-71. 

5. Edmund Quincy to William Lloyd Garrison, November 6, 1843, quoted 
in Life, III, 84-87. 

6. John A. Collins to William Lloyd Garrison, December 7, 1840, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

7. Liberator ', January 5, 1844. 

8. The constitution of Hopedale appeared in the Liberator, February 26, 

9. Liberator, October 28, 1843. "The formation of the various reformatory 
associations of the day," he wrote in 1841, "notwithstanding we may 
gladly hail their appearance, must be looked upon with a feeling of 
sadness, as furnishing so many proofs of the spurious character of 
American Christianity. Genuine Christianity would require no special 
effort no separate organization, to carry out the principles of anti- 
slavery, or of any other moral or social reform; for it would make clean 
work of everything which is offensive to God, or injurious to man." 
Liberator, August n, 1841. 

10. William Lloyd Garrison to George W. Benson, January % 1841, quoted 

in Life, III, 25, fn. 
n. Liberator, January 5, 1844. 

12. Liberator, November 19, 1841. 

13. Liberator, February 10, 1843. 

14. For Garrison's exegesis of the phrase "this generation, 19 sec the Liberator^ 
January 12, 1844. His sobering second thoughts cm Noyes and his Putney 
experiment, particularly his ideas on marriage, are found in the tdb era- 
tor, November 27, 1841. For his estimate of Father Miller see the issue 
for February 10, 1843. 

15. Liberator^ July 30, 1841. 

i<5. Nathaniel P, Rogers to Richard D. Webb, February 20, 1842, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

17. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, November 27, 1842, quoted 
in Life, III, 69, For the story of Foster's career see Parker Piltebury, Acts 
of the Anti-Slavery Apostles (Concord, NIL, 1883), cha* VIWCII. 

1 8. Stephen Symonds Foster to William Lloyd Garrison, February ao, 1841, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

19. Liber atory n; 95, quoted in Life, III, 28. 

20. Wendell Phillips to Richard D. Webb, July 27, 1841, Garrison Papers, 
Boston Public Library, 

21. The height of Garrison's campaign against the Liberty Party came in 

NOTES 475 

1841-1842. Sec, for example, editorials in the Liberator, January i, April 

1 6, August 12, 1841, from which the quotations are taken. 

22. James C. Jackson, a political abolitionist from Massachusetts, called Gar- 
rison an abstractionist; and Alvan Stewart, a Liberty Party organizer in 

New York, concluded his letter of criticism to Garrison with the lament 
that "such supreme folly should have entered this world." Liberator, 

August 4, 1843, 

23. Liberator, October i, 1841. 

24. "When a nation is to be reformed, the first thing in order, is to arouse 
it from its slumber of moral death; and when this is accomplished 

when the trump of reformation has startled every sleeper and agitated 
every bosom the reformation may be said to have made a mighty 

stride onward," Liberator,, January 28, 1842. 

25. "Voting for Liberty men is the end of the law of righteousness. . . . 
Here we have the cloven foot of political selfishness revealed without 
disguise. Here, too, we see of what elements the Liberty Party is com- 
posed. In order to secure votes, that party must disclaim ail action 
against slavery except in a political form, and then only so far as to 
prevent the North from being unjustly overborne by the South. It must 
eschew the word abolitionism discard every feature that would serve 
to identify it with the original anti-slavery movement operate mainly 
on the selfish principle welcome all to its ranks who will, in its terms, 
subscribe to *the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution/ not 
of the Anti-Slavery Society, but of the United States. They who are 
disposed to join it are assured that they need not be abolitionists at all, 
unless they choose. . . . Our opposition to the Liberty Party does not 
arise from our unwillingness to see a political change effected in favor 
of universal emancipation in our country. Far from it, ... It is as im- 
possible for men to be moral reformers and political partisans at the same 
time, as it is for fire and gunpowder to harmonize together. Change the 
religious sentiment of the North on the subject of slavery, and the 
political action of the North will instantly co-operate with it. With this 
religious sentiment, now thrown into the scales of slavery the Lib- 
erty party has no conflict. It seeks to effect political reform independ- 
ently of religious reform." Liberator, November n, 1842, 

26. Bcriah Green in a letter of complaint which Garrison published, Lib- 
erator, September 2, 1842. 

27. Liberator, March n, 1842. 

28. Liberator, September x, 1842. 

29. Abby Kelley (Foster) to William Lloyd Garrison, September 6* 1843, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

30. Liberator, November 26, 1841* 

31. Liber at or 9 12: 18, quoted in Life, III, 46, 

32. William Lloyd Garrison to George Benson, March 22, 1842, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

33. Liberator, September 13, September 20, 1844. 

34. Edmund Quincy to Richard D. Webb, January 29, 1843, quoted in Life, 

in, 88-89. 

35* Edmund Quincy to Richard D. Webb, June 27-July 26, 1843, Garrison 

Papers, Boston Public Library. 
36, Acts and Resolves of Massachusetts, 1843, eh* 19, 69, n.d. 

47<5 NOTES 

37. Acts and Resolves of Massachusetts, 1845, 59&"~599* 

38. Liberator, October 31, 1845. 


1. Caroline Weston to Anne Warren Weston, June 13, 1846, Wcston Pa- 
pers, Boston Public Library, 

2. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, August 4, 1846, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library, 

3. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, August 18, 1846, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library, 

4. William Lloyd Garrison to Elizabeth Pease, April x, 1847, Garrison Pa- 
pers, Boston Public Library. 

5. William Lloyd Garrison to Richard D. Webb, July i, 1847, Garrison Pa- 
pers, Boston Public Library. 

6. "Next to a fort, arsenal, naval vessel, and military array, I lute a cus- 
tomhousenot because of the tax it imposed on the friendly Scottish 
gift, but as a matter of principle." Garrison to Mrs. Louisa Loring, 
July 30, 1847, quoted In Life, III, 179. 

7. William Lloyd Garrison to Elizabeth Pease, July (?), 1847, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

8. William Lloyd Garrison to Richard D. Webb, March i, 1847, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

9. Wendell Phillips to Francis Jackson, January, 1847, Garrison Papers, 
Boston Public Library, 

10. Liberator, July 2, 1847. 

11. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, August 9, 1847, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

12. "Address to the Friends of Freedom and Emancipation in the United 
States," written by Garrison and Issued by the Executive Committee of 
the American Anti-Slavery Society. The address was printed In the 
Liberator, 14: 86-87 an( ^ ls quoted In Life, III, 107-110. 

13. Liberator, May 7, 1847. 

14. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, August 28, 1847, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

15. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, September 18, 1847, Garri- 
son Papers, Boston Public Library. 

16. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, October 20, 1847, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. Douglass finally selected Rochester as the 
site of his paper which he called the North Star, The first issue was 
published on December 3, 1847. Garrison and Douglass continued to 
meet at anti-slavery conventions, but their relationship was no longer 
cordial. The breach finally came at the annual meeting of the national 
society in Syracuse in 1851, when Douglass refused to accept Garrison's 
pro-slavery interpretation of the Constitution. 

17. Theodore Parker to William Lloyd Garrison, January 9, 1848, quoted in 
Life, III, 220. 

18. Edmund Quincy to Richard D. Webb, March 9, 1848, quoted in Life, 
III, 218-220. 

19. Liberator, February 25, 1848. 

20. Liberator, 18: 186, quoted in Life, III, X45*-!47* 

21. Liberator, March io 1848. 

NOTES 477 

22. Liberator, 18:134, quoted in Life, III, 235, 

23. Boston Recorder, quoted in the Liberator, February 9, 1849. 

24. William Lloyd Garrison to Edmund Quincy, n.d., quoted in Life, III, 


25. Congressional Globe, 3ist Cong., ist Sess., Vol. XXII, Part i, 646$, 
47 6ff. 

26. New York Herald, May 6, May 7, 1850. 

27. The annual meeting was reported in the New York Herald, May 8-9, 
1850, and more fully in the Liberator and Anti-Slavery Standard, See 
Life, III, ch. X. 

28. Philadelphia Ledger, May 14, 1850. 


1. Liberator, 21:19, quoted in Life, III, 319. 

2. J. Miller McKim to Sarah Pugh, November i, 1852, Garrison Papers, 
Boston Public Library. 

3. Edmund Quincy to Samuel May, Jr., June 10, 1851, Garrison Papers, Bos- 
ton Public Library. Samuel May, Jr., was the nephew of Garrison's old 
colleague and for many years the General Agent of the Massachusetts 

4. For Garrison's opinions of Father Mathew see the issues of the Libera- 
tor for August and September, 1849. Garrison's original letter to the 
priest requesting his support for anti-slavery appears in Life, III, 248- 

5. Liberator, March 30, 1849, 

6. See Garrison's editorial in the National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 
25, 1856 in which he censures the "prescriptive and pro-slavery" spirit 
of the American Party, In 1854, however, he was forced to admit that 
the Know-Nothing legislature of Massachusetts was one of the most 
democratic in the history of the state, but attributed this to the fact that 
"the aristocratic element was completely exorcised out of it." Liberator, 
25:86, quoted in Life, III, 414, fn. 

7. Liberator, July 6, 1849. 

8. Liberator, 21: 203, quoted in Life, III, 345* 

9. Liberator, August 24, 1849. 

10. Francis Bowen, "The War of Races in Hungary," and "The Politics of 
Europe," North American Review, LXX (1850), 78-100, 499-520. 

n. Garrison's speech at the preliminary woman's rights meeting in June, 
1850, is quoted in Life, III, 3 00-^3 12. 

12. Liberator, 22:74, quoted in Life, HI, 375-376, "I am a firm believer in the 
reality of those spiritual manifestations, after the many things I have 
witnessed, and the various tests I have seen applied; yet I am not a 
credulous man, nor at all given to the marvellous, and seldom exercise 
my ideality." Garrison to Lydia Maria Child, February 6, 1857, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

13. Andrew Jackson Davis, "A Psychometric Examination of William 
Lloyd Garrison," The Penetralia: Being Harmonial Answers to Impor- 
tant Questions (Boston, 1856), 

14. Liberator, 21:114, quoted in Life, III, 368. 

15. "The Function and Place of Conscience in Relation to the Laws of 
Men; A Sermoa for the Times, Preached at the Melodeon, on Sunday, 

47$ NOTES 

September 22, 1850," Collected Works of Theodore Parker, ecL F. D, 
Cobbc, 14 vols. (London, 1863-1874), vol. V, 138-139. 

1 6. Parker's remark is quoted in Henry Steele Commager, Theodore Parker: 
Yankee Crusader, 2nd cd. (Boston, 1960), 215. 

17. Charles Francis Adams, Jr., Richard Henry Dana, 2 vok. (Boston, 1890), I, 

1 8. Liberator , February 18, 1851. 

19. Samuel J. May to William Lloyd Garrison, December 6, 1851, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

20. Liberator, March 26, 1852. Garrison nevertheless was concerned with 
the problems of the Underground Railroad and noted a passage in Sun- 
derland's Spiritual Philosophers on the ability of Australian bushmen to 
travel without compasses. "The method is to 'turn very gradually 
around while the chin is rather depressed upon the cravat,' and, at the 
same time to repeat, rapidly and continually, the hissing sound $h, till 
the breath spontaneously stops, and thereby indicates that you are facing 
the magnetic North, the magnetic East, or the Magnetic West , . . 
the experimenter may know he is facing magnetic North, by this test; 
that when he is actually facing the magnetic North, the hissing breath 
will not be suspended, by facing exactly 'to-the-right-about.' " Manu- 
script marked "Not for Publication," and dated March 3, 1851, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

21. Garrison's speech in Westchester, Pennsylvania, was delivered on Octo- 
ber 26, 1852, and is quoted in Life, III, 365, 

22. Liberator, 24: 82, quoted in Life, III, 409. 

23. George Murray McConnel, "Recollections of Stephen A. Douglas/* 
Illinois State Historical Society Transactions (Springfield, 1901), 48 ct. 
seq n quoted in George Fort Milton, The Eve of Conflict: Stephen A, 
Douglas and the Needless War (Cambridge, Mass., 1834), in, 


x. Liberator, 26: 142146, quoted in Life, III, 443. Another of Garrison's 
editorials saluted the Republican Party as the "legitimate product of the 

moral agitation of the subject of slavery for the last quarter of the 
century." Liberator, 26: 166. 

2. Liberator, 26: 174, quoted in Life, III, 447. 

3. Resolutions presented by Garrison and passed by the New England 
Anti-Slavery Convention, May 27, 1856. 

4. Liberator, 26: 166, quoted in Life, III, 444* 

5. William Lloyd Garrison to Samuel J. May, September 14, 1857, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library, 

6. William Lloyd Garrison to Abby Kellcy Foster, September 14, 1859, See 
also letters of his to Mrs. Foster dated July 22, July 25, September 8, 
1859, Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library* 

7. Liberator, September 4, 1857. 

8. Liberator, 26: 166, quoted in Life, III, 444-446, 

9. Liberator, July 10, 1857. 

10. Garrison's own admission in the Liberator, January 22* 1857* 
u. Garrison's speech was printed in the Liberator -, January 22, 1857, 
12* William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, February 14, 1858, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

NOTES 479 

13. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, October 29, 1858, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

14. The call for the Disunion Convention was published in the Liberator, 
September 25, 1857. 

15. Liberator, November 20, 1857. 

16. Liberator, April 30, May 21, 1858. 

17. Liberator, July 31, 1857. 

1 8. Debates of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, 1858, reported in the 
Liberator, February 5, 1858. 

19. For Garrison's editorials on John Brown sec the Liberator, November, 
December, 1859, January 13, 17, 1860. 

20. Speech at the John Brown Memorial Observance Day held at the 
Tremont Temple, November 2, 1859. See Liberator, December 9, 1859. 
Italics mine. 

21. Liberator, 29: 18, quoted in Life, III, 483; Liberator, September 7, 1860. 

22. Liberator, September 7, November 9, 1860. 

23. Garrison's Fourth of July speech at Framinghani Grove published in 
the Liberator, July 20, 1860. After the election, however, he compli- 
mented Lincoln on his "dignity and self-respect" and his decision to 
give "no countenance to any of the compromises that have yet been 

24. Garrison's speech at the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery 
Society, May, 1860, reported in the Liberator, June i, 1860. 

25. Liberator, November 16, 1860, 

26. Liberator, January 6, November 23, 1860. 

27. Liberator, January 4, 1861. 

28. Liberator, April u, February 15, 1860. 

29. Liberator, March 8, 1861. 

30. Liberator, April 12, 1861, Garrison's new patriotism antedated the 
bombardment of Fort Sumter by a month* "Look at the present state of 
the country! The old Union breaking up daily, its columns falling in 
every direction four Southern States already out of it, and all the 
others busily and openly preparing to follow the national Government 
paralysed through indecision, cowardice, or perfidy the national flag 
trampled upon and discarded by the traitors, and a murderous endeavor 
on their part, by firing heavy shot, to sink a Government vessel entering 
the harbor of Charleston upon a lawful errand, compelling her to flee in 
disgrace , * , treason and traitors everywhere, in every slave State, in 
every free State, at the seat of Government, in both Houses of Congress, 
in the army and navy, in the Executive department, at the head of the 
press, audacious, defiant, diabolical," Liberator, March 8, 1861. 

31. Liberator, April 19, 1861, 

32. Liberator, April 2.6, May 3, 1861. 

33. Liberator, May xo, x86x. 

34. Garrison explained his view on the peace cause in a series of letters to 
Johnson, Edward Davis, Miller McKim, et al, May-December, 1861, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

35. Liberator, April 23, 1858. 

36. Yet as late as May 28, 1860, Garrison complained that "the war spirit is 
evidently on the increase in this country, and next to nothing seems to 
be doing directly for the promotion of peace. . . . We think the Peace 


Society itself, in evading the Anti-Slavery issue of the times has been 
signally untrue to Its object blindly overlooking the great obstacle 
existing to the achievement of that object." 


1. "The Copperhead," Liberator, July 30, 1863. 

2. Garrison's speech was printed in the Liberator, August 29, 1862. 

3. Liberator, June 27, September 26, 1862. 

4. Liberator, July 25, 1861. 

5. William Lloyd Garrison to George Thompson, February 21, 1862, 
printed in the Liberator of the same date. 

6. Liberator, July 26, 1861. 

7. Liberator, June 7, 1861. 

8. William Lloyd Garrison to Oliver Johnson, December 6, 1861, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. "If there be not soon an 'irrepressible 
conflict* in the Republican ranks, in regard to his course of policy, I 
shall almost despair of the country." Liberator, December 6, 1861, 

9. The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. J. G. Nicolay, John 
Hay, and F. D. Tandy, 12 vols. (New York, 1905), X, 65. 

10. William Lloyd Garrison to James Redpath, an open letter published in 
the Liberator, December 7, 1860. 

11. Garrison's speech was reported in the Liberator, August 9, 1861. 

12. William Lloyd Garrison to Oliver Johnson, September 9, 1862, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

13. Garrison's speech to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, quoted In 
Life, IV, 43-45. Garrison could still be sharply critical of Lincoln's 
policy decisions. When the President appointed Hallcck and McClcllan 
as generai-in-chief and commander of the Army of the Potomac, Gar- 
rison called him a "wet rag" and his decision "as near lunacy as any one 
not a pronounced Bedlamite" could make. "The satanic democracy of 
the North, and the traitorous loyalty' of the Border States, have almost 
absolute control over him, and are industriously preparing the way for 
the overthrow of his administration, and the inauguration, if not of a 
reign of terror, at least one that will make terms with Rebeldom, no 
matter how humiliating they may be." Garrison to Oliver Johnson, 
September 9, 1862, Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

14. Liberator, August 22, 1862. See also Garrison's editorial in the Liberator , 
March 21, 1862. 

15. Liberator, October 3, 1862. 

1 6. William Lloyd Garrison to Frances Garrison, September 15, 1862, 

Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library, 
17. Liberator, December 5, 1862, 
1 8, Liberator, December 25, 1862. 

19. See the Liberator, January 16, January 30, February 4 1863. 

20. Excerpts from Phillips's Boston speech at a Republican rally and the 
Cooper Union speech are quoted in Ralph Korngold, Two Friends of 
Man (Boston, 1950), 297, 321-322. 

21. Liberator, 33: 202, quoted in Life, IV, 85 fau 

22. Liberator, June 5, 1863, 

23. "Especially do we consider it very unfortunate for any one, churning to 

NOTES 48 1 

be a Non-Resistant, who so enforces the doctrine as to give 'aid and 
comfort' to traitors and their copperhead sympathizers at this particular 
crisis." Liberator, July 31, 1863. To Oliver Johnson he wrote, "Ardently 
as my soul yearns for universal peace, and greatly shocking to it as are 
the horrors of war, I deem this a time when the friends of peace will 
best subserve their holy cause to wait until the whirlwind, the fire and 
the earthquake are past, and then 'the still small voice' may be under- 
standingly and improvingly heard." Garrison to Oliver Johnson, July 5, 
1863, Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

24. William Lloyd Garrison to Alfred H. Love, November 9, 1863, Gar- 
rison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

25. William Lloyd Garrison to George Garrison, August 6, 1863, quoted in 
Life, IV, 83-84. 

26. Garrison's speech at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Society 
was reported in the Liberator, 34: 22, and is quoted in Life, IV, 94-97. 

27. Liberator, 34:23, quoted in Life, IV, 104. 

28. Garrison's speech at the New England Convention, reported in the 
Liberator, 34: 94, quoted in Life, IV, in. Italics mine. 

29. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, June 8, 1864, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

30. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, June 9-11, 1864, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library; Liberator, 34: 99, quoted in Life, IV, 117. 

31. Copy of a letter from Garrison to Oliver Johnson, June 17, 1864; 
Garrison to Johnson, June 20, 1864, Garrison Papers, Boston Public 

32. William Lloyd Garrison to Samuel May, Jr., June 17, 1864, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

33. Liberator, July 22, 1864. 

34. Liberator, August 19, 1864, 

35. "Reconstruction," Liberator, December 2, 1864, 

36. Debates of the Annual Meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, 
May 9-10, 1865, reported in the Liberator, 35: 81, and quoted in Life, 
IV, 158-159. 

37. Liberator, January 13, 1865; Liberator, 34: 118, quoted in Life, IV, 123- 

38. The vote, 118 to 48 against disbanding the American Antl-Sla very- 
Society, was an index of abolitionist strength in 1865, 


1. Liberator, December 29, 1865. 

2. Ann Phillips to Henry C. Wright* December 7, 1868, Weston Papers, 
Boston Public Library, 

3. William Lloyd Garrison to Frances Garrison Villard, January 27, 1866, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library, 

4. William Lloyd Garrison to Oliver Johnson, February n, 1866, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

5. William Lloyd Garrison to Frances Garrison Villard, April 2, iB66, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

<$. William Lloyd Garrison to Frances Garrison Villard, March 3, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 


7. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry C. Wright, February 9, 1866, 

Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

8. William Lloyd Garrison to Wendell P. Garrison, March 25, 1866, 

Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

9. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, April 6, 1866, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

10. The letter of the Testimonial Committee to Garrison and his reply arc 
quoted in Life, IV, 183-188, 

11. William Lloyd Garrison to Francis J. Garrison, April 12, i8<56, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library. 

12. William Lloyd Garrison to Wendell P. Garrison, April 10, 1866, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

13. Draft of a letter to the Sumtcr Club, April 13, 1866, Garrison Papers, 
Boston Public Library. 

14. William Lloyd Garrison to Frances Garrison Villard, August n, 1866, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. Garrison's fear of a ccmp d'etat 
lingered until December. In September he warned of the "conflict" that 
"yet remains to be fought with the dragon of slavery." Garrison to Samuel 
May, September 18, 1866. In October he wrote to Frank that he still 
thought "the President means to make, if need be, a forcible issue with 
Congress in December." Garrison to Francis J. Garrison, October 26, 
1866. Finally in December in another letter to Frank he admitted that 
Johnson's annual message was "subdued and measured in its tone, 
though still stubbornly bent on the policy of reconstruction marked out 
by its upstart author! . . It is manifest, already, that Congress is bent on 
carrying out its program, conscious that the people will expect nothing 
less, and perhaps will insist on something more. The popular feeling is 
cheering." December 7, 1866, Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

15. William Lloyd Garrison to Frances Garrison Villard, September 21, 
1866, Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

1 6. William Lloyd Garrison to Francis J. Garrison, January 18, 1867, 

Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 
17. "The Duties of the Hour," Independent^ January 17, 1867, 
1 8. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry C. Wright, January n, 1868, Gar- 

rison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

19. William Lloyd Garrison to Helen Garrison, May 24, 1867, Garrison 
Papers, Boston Public Library, 

20. Garrison to Helen Garrison, October 3, October 12, 1867; Garrison to 
Frances Garrison Villard, October 4, 1867, Garrison Papers, Boston 
Public Library. 

21. Garrison to Oliver Johnson, July 30, 1867; Garrison to Helen Garrison, 
July 1 6, 1867, Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library* 

22. William Lloyd Garrison to Wendell P, Garrison, July 25, 1872, Gar- 
rison Papers, Boston Public Library, 

23. Open letter to the Hon Charles Summer, Boston Jomtal, August 3, 

24. William Lloyd Garrison to Wendell P. Garrison, March io t 1876, 
Garrison Papers, Boston Public Library. 

25. Independent^ April 2, 1868. 

26. Independent, April *6 1874. 

NOTES 483 

27. William Lloyd Garrison to W. G, H. Smart, 1874, quoted In Korngold, 
Two Friends of Man, 365. 

28. William Lloyd Garrison to Henry Ward Beecher, May 10, 1870, quoted 
in Life, IV, 244-245. 

29. Letter to the Boston Journal, April 21, 1869, 

30. Letter to the New York Tribune, February 27, 1879. See also his letters 
to the same paper, February 17, February 25, 1879. 

31. Garrison was the most tolerant of grandparents. When Fanny com- 
plained of her children's behavior, he reassured her with permissive ad- 
vice. "That they will have their wayward turns, like other children, we 
expect, and shall appreciate them none the less." Fanny's little girl Helen 
was his favorite. "I mean to be very impartial, but if I shall lean a little 
more toward Helen, her sex must be my apology! The very delicacy of 
her nature and the nervous susceptibility of her constitution draw her 
very closely to my heart. Treat her, always, with great tenderness." 
Garrison to Frances Garrison Villard, April 3, 1874, Garrison Papers, 
Boston Public Library. 


i. Garrison printed Brownson's article, "The Abolitionists Free Discus- 
sion" in the "Refuge of Oppression" column of the Liberator, October 
19, 1838. Italics mine. 



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